A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Monday, February 29, 2016

Be Frank With Me - A Novel- By Julia Claiborne Johnson- A Book Review

Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s writing her first book in decades and to ensure timely completion her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders.

As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Full of heart and countless only-in-Hollywood moments, Be Frank With Me is a captivating and heartwarming story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

Be Frank With MeBe Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Be Frank with me by Julia Claibourne Johnson is a 2016 Willam Morrow publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

With the wealthy and secluded Bel Air as a backdrop, the relationship between a reclusive “one hit wonder” author and her delightful, but complicated son, Frank , sets the stage for this offbeat, put poignant story.

Think along the lines of Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger and you have M.M. Banning, or Mimi, to her close friends. After writing one book that instantly became a literary classic, Mimi fled the public eye and became a notorious recluse, with the reputation of being a bit odd or eccentric. She has lived quite nicely off the royalties of her classic masterpiece all these years without ever having to pen another novel… until now.

A victim of a ponzi style scheme, Mimi is now broke, and must produce a novel.. like yesterday! So, her publisher sends over an assistant, a fresh faced young lady named Alice, to help with various task, so Mimi can focus on her book. But, Alice soon discovers most of her time is taken up with caring for Mimi's nine year old son, Frank.

Frank, is an exceptional boy, brilliant, and also has some form of autism. While not actually named, one gets the idea he could have Asperger's syndrome. He's a real handful, and is full of knowledge of movie trivia, music and all sorts of random information. He dresses in 1930's clothing which puts him at odds with his classmates, making his life away from home a virtual nightmare.

Enter in another odd duck character, Xander, a family friend who is a musician and the only male presence, it would seem, in Frank's life. This prompts Alice to become rather fixated on discovering who Frank's father is.

While Alice could not possibly have been prepared on how to deal with Mimi and her moods, she is really taken aback by Frank. They all three get off to a rather awkward start as Mimi and Frank make it abundantly clear they really don't want Alice intruding upon them and their carefully constructed and private world.

But before all is said and done, a bond will form between Mimi, Frank, Alice and Xander that will make for one very zany, whimsical, but very touching story.

Frank steals the show, it goes without saying. He is the star hands down, and everyone else kind of pales in comparison. While each character has an impact on Frank in one way or another, and each is drawn quite distinctly, all of them revolve around Frank and his rich fantasy life that spills over into reality, with mixed results.

Compared in part to “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”, “Eloise”, and “Where'd You go, Bernadette?” due to the elements each presented, such as autism, agoraphobia, brilliant, and precocious children. But, to me Frank, as charming and fragile as he can be, was also a rather sad figure. To say his life is unconventional is an understatement of epic proportions. I wondered at how his life will ultimately develop over time, if he will ever live a more structured life or if he will still find Alice to be a special and important part of his life someday.

While the focus of course is on Frank, let's not forget Alice. She is the narrator of the story and at the end of the day, she is one who will carry the memories of her time with Mimi and Frank inside her heart, she is the one who was perhaps the most impacted by all their shared experiences, and the one who learned the most about herself, walking away with as a different person that when she first arrived.

I wasn't sure how to rate this one, really. I've been stuck on this review for several days thinking it over. I had a little trouble with what I felt was kind of an abrupt conclusion, wishing perhaps for a little hint of how things would be in the future for these characters. But, I suppose it ended on a more realistic note, with things playing out in real time. Still, I may find myself at some time in the future thinking of Alice or Frank, wondering how things are going for them and what adventures they have got up to.



Click this link to enter the HarperCollins "Be Frank with Me" Sweepstakes.



Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children.


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