Review Blog

Mar 22 2016

Be Frank with me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

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Corvus, 2016. ISBN 9781782399179
(Age: Adult - Discerning secondary students) As you know, I don't seem to get around to reading grown up books often but there was something about the blurb for this one that begged me to read and review it.
Thank you thank you Allen and Unwin for allowing me the unmitigated pleasure of doing so! Charming, funny, poignant, realistic and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this has been an absolute joy for my night time reading of the past week.
The reclusive and reputedly eccentric author M.M. Banning has been shamefully victimised by a fraud which has left her penniless. Her literary fame which rests on a single perfect novel now studied in schools all over America burns as brightly as ever but the funds have dwindled desperately.
Banning's publisher, Isaac Vargas, despatches his most able young assistant Alice Whitley from New York to the East Coast to monitor Banning's progress with a promised new novel. Despite having not published a word since 'The pitcher', Banning's contract for this new book is her financial salvation but the progress is not without obstacles. Alice's mission is not just to deliver reports on the book's progress but to 'manage' both Banning's domestic life and her nine year old son, Frank. If M. M. Banning is considered eccentric then her son Frank has not only inherited her genetic makeup but taken oddity to a whole new level.
A nine year old boy addicted to old movies, with a remarkable intelligence and a wealth of trivia hoarded away in his brain, Frank dresses in a range of outfits that transform him from a mini Teddy Roosevelt to a Clarence Darrow with equal ease and completely lacks any awareness of social mores. Needless to say, this does not stand him in good stead with other fourth-graders and indeed, many adults are taken aback by Frank's rather unnerving personality.
Alice's initial surprise as this strange household assaults her senses gradually turns to an unconditional acceptance of Frank and she becomes to a huge extent a surrogate parent for him.
Throw into this mix, the devastatingly attractive Xander whose presence throws Frank into paroxysms of joy, has a soothing effect on Mimi (M.M.) and thoroughly unnerves Alice.
This book has so much to offer the reader in terms of pure joy but has also a great deal to say about our acceptance of others, and society's definition of 'normal'.
You will not be disappointed if you look out for this one. While primarily aimed at an adult audience there is nothing in this that would prohibit being a delightful addition to a secondary library for discerning readers.
Sue Warren

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