This pedometer geek reader just finished reading another novel received through a First Reads Goodreads giveaway. This Advanced Reader Copy was Be Frank with Me, the debut novel of Julia Claiborne Johnson. This is the extended review.
Be Frank With Me
by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Published by William Morrow,
an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
As a reader, it is always a bit exciting as well as somewhat scary reading a debut novel. Will it be good or not? Will this be the beginning of a long association of reading this author’s works, or will it be the only one ever read? Having said that, this is part of the ‘does art imitate life?’ reading of Julia Claiborne Johnson’s novel. The story revolves around an author with a debut novel, who never writes another thing. This reader hopes that this is not true for the self-proclaimed “late bloomer” Johnson, who wrote this novel in her fifties despite a career writing for Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines. This was prior to her deciding to write a novel. This reader loved this story and is now looking forward to reading more by her. (This reader also reads the extras in the back so that is how I discovered all this, but I digress.)
As the story begins, it is revealed that a reclusive writer, M.M. Banning (Mimi), has penned one stellar, prize-winning classic novel named Pitched at age nineteen before hiding herself away from fanatic fans, ironically, in a glass mansion in Bel Air. (Think: Harper Lee, perhaps…or at least, that was this reader’s first thought). Now, years later, after being swindled out of her money in a Ponzi scheme, she must write another novel for money. Any novel will do; she just needs to write one.
Enter Alice Whitley, a young editorial assistant. Sent by Mimi’s personal editor, Mr. Vargas, ostensibly to help Mimi with the novel, Alice really becomes a companion to Mimi’s formerly unknown nine-year-old son, Frank.
Frank is an atypical lad…a devotee of films, a snappy dresser with a wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and an intellectual giant (Think: Sheldon Cooper of’ The Big Bang Theory). He does not, though, have an easy time of being a fourth grader. As Alice learns when she first meets Mimi and Frank, there are two rules to understanding Frank. Rule One: No touching Frank’s things. Rule Two: No touching Frank.
Thus begins the education and relationship between Frank and Alice. When the rules are followed, things flow relatively well; when they don’t, mayhem often ensues. Dealing with Mimi and the skittish handyman Xander all add to the depth of the story.
This is a charming debut novel about a unique child and his companion Alice, all told through her perspective, often as communication with Mr. Vargas. There are laugh out loud moments; there are poignant silences; there are double entendre moments (including what this reader thought of the title). And lots of jokes that fall flat (knock, knock), and dialog that doesn’t. Frank is adorable and lovable, and the story is a joy to read. Like Frank’s clothing, there are lots of classic movie references, too. Definitely, this story is not a cliche; it is refreshing, and this reader not only loved Frank, but the story itself. So much so, that it will be suggested as a read for my library book group for 2018.
Quotes to remember:
“Nothing,” he said. “Nada. Bupkis. Diddly. Zip. Zero. Zilch—”
“There are a lot of words for nothingness,” Frank said. “Love means nothing.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yes it is. In tennis.” (page 83)