Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alice has worked a string of dead-end jobs until she winds up as an assistant for a literary agent, Mr. Vargas. He is impressed with her work at a tech store (think Apple Genius Bar) and takes her under his wing. Eventually Mr. Vargas dispatches Alice to assist with one of his most famous, but reclusive, clients: M.M. "Mimi" Banning. Mimi wrote a famous bestseller book as a young woman and then basically disappeared off the grid. She's recently lost all her money in a Ponzi scheme, however, and she needs an assistant to help with delivery of a new manuscript. Enter Alice. However, when Alice arrives in California, she finds herself mainly acting as caretaker to Mimi's nine-year-old son, Frank: a quirky and unique boy who changes Alice's life.
There's really no way to describe this book. It was an excellent way to round out 2015 - it's a lovely and touching novel. While in theory it describes a bit of time in Alice's life, with most of the story coming from her point of view, the true hero of this story is Frank - amazing, wonderful, funny Frank. Frank would probably be deemed autistic, or at least somewhere on the spectrum, in our society, as he clearly has issues with being touched, interacting with his peers, and many other things. But he's also this amazing, unique, and smart boy - he dresses like a movie star from the '30s, has an endless supply of facts in his brain about everything (but doesn't comprehend sarcasm or humor), loves old films, and has a fierce and deep devotion for his mother -- no matter what she does.
As Alice gets to know Frank, Mimi, and the small cast of characters around them - mainly, Xander, Frank's piano teacher, who flits in and out of his life - she is as drawn to the boy as the rest of us. But can she save Frank (and Mimi) from the harshness of the outside world and their past? It's an interesting thought and one that doesn't lend itself to a typical beginning/middle/end plot. In some ways, not a lot happens in this book (though in some ways, a lot does), but its story is propelled by Johnson's excellent character development and descriptions. Frank, Alice, Mimi, and Xander really come to life in her hands. It's a funny book, a sad book, but a beautiful book. Certainly a worthwhile read. You'll find yourself thinking about these characters long after you turn the last page.
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