Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Be Frank With Me

Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: February 2, 2016
First Line: "Because the station wagon blew up in the fire, Frank and I took the bus to the hospital."

Book Description from GoodReads: 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.

My ReviewWhat drew me to this book initially was the title.  I loved all of the different meanings you could draw from it, the idea of a quirky boy ... and the cover is teal - a colour that I'm drawn to, what can I say.

Unfortunately the honeymoon ended there. Be Frank With Me had all the makings for a great read for me but then it didn't deliver and I struggled to get engaged with the plot and its characters.  Sadly, I found myself skimming through some of the chapters in the second half.  The premise was great, Frank's quirkiness was intriguing but the plot didn't have enough purpose.

The story is told from Alice's point of view and this was a problem for me for a few reasons.  First, she has the personality of lukewarm oatmeal.  Sure, she's a fish out of water when it comes to taking care of the ultra quirky Frank but on her own she's rather bland.  She has a sweet relationship with Frank but that's about it.  She's involved in a sudden romance that really could have been omitted for all that it added to the plot.  I think that if part of the book was told from Frank or even Mimi's eyes I would have been more engaged and been given a deeper understanding of where these characters came from.

Frank is the gem of this book and the reason I kept reading.  He's smarter than 99.7% of the population and is filled with various obscure facts (but how he learns these facts is unknown since he doesn't visit libraries or go online).  He imparts this knowledge to unsuspecting people (whether they want to know the fact or not) and is a connoisseur of old films.  Plus he's a snazzy, off-beat dresser preferring a suit, top hat and monocle (and sometimes pith helmet and racing goggles) to jeans and a T-shirt like other boys his age.  These quirks lead to Frank being ostracized by his peers leaving him to be quite a lonely child.

Frank brings some levity to the book but at the same time it made me sad to see just how lonely and misunderstood he was by others.  He lives in a very small world with Alice and his mother, Mimi being his epicentre.  Mother Mimi is a force to be reckoned with and is portrayed as a mean-spirited, nasty recluse and while there are moments of maternal love towards Frank her nasty attitude towards Alice didn't feel warranted and Mimi was pretty much left a mystery to the reader.  Honestly, I felt bad for Frank - this uber quirky kid who has a mother who appears to care about her son one minute then hides away from him for hours/days on end to finish her book.  It just didn't make sense.  She was abrasive and unlikeable except for those rare moments of mothering.

I know that there are many other readers who have sung this book's praises but Be Frank With Me just wasn't for me.  It had a good premise but underneath it all it suffered from a thin plot, rather blaw, one dimensional characters (with the exception of Frank) and no real evolution in the characters' relationships or personalities.  By the end of the book I was left wondering what the point of the whole book was supposed to be. I  think Be Frank With Me was supposed to have a light-hearted, even funny, feel to it but overall I just felt sad for Frank.  He's a unique, quirky child who seems to have a lot of people around him but still feels very much alone in the world. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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