The cover of this book matches the inside of the book exactly – this is how I would imagine Frank, one of the main characters, to look like.
Be Frank with me is Julia Claiborne Johnson’s debut novel, and it’s a brilliant one. Allen and Unwin, the publishers, even put a sticker on my copy – Read it. Love it. Or your money back. I can see why they were so confident.
It’s such a fabulous premise – Mimi, a reclusive novelist, who wrote a Pulitzer prize-winning book at nineteen and hasn’t written a word since (hello, Harper Lee!) now needs to write a book in order to pay some bills. Her publisher sends her Alice, a twenty-four year-old publishing assistant, to live with her, keep her on track with her writing, look after the household and look after Mimi’s nine-year-old son, Frank.
Yet Mimi can be rude to the point of malicious towards Alice, and Frank, although engaging, is eccentric, off-beat and not at all a typical boy. Here’s an example of his conversation with Alice:
“So, Frank, you must love school. You know more than most grown-ups I’ve met.”
“The other kids say I’m retarded.”
“I thought they said you were crazy.”
“They say that, too.”
“They’re probably mad because you’re smart and make good grades. Kids are stupid like that. The teachers love you, though, right?”
“I’ll tell you what my mother says teachers don’t love,” Frank said. “Being corrected.”
Sheesh. “You don’t do that, do you?”
“Only when teachers make factual errors.”
Add a good-looking piano teacher with his own hidden problems into the mix, plus an accident or two, and you have a page-turning book.
I can see this book as a movie – Frank’s costumes are extraordinarily gorgeous, the dialogue is snappy and entertaining, the Bel Air setting lavish and Frank and Alice are so likeable.
I thought that a few aspects of the plot were set up to mislead the reader, and then fizzled out but overall, I loved this book. I sincerely hope that Julia Claiborne Johnson – unlike Harper Lee or Mimi – writes more than one or two books.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who left comments on my last post for a BIG Kids magazine giveaway. The lucky winners are Renee, Vanessa and Lyn – I will be in contact with you!