Be Frank with Me (Johnson)

Be Frank with Me 
Julia Claiborne Johnson, 2016
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062413710

Reclusive literary legend M. M. "Mimi" Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke.

Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly 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 Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank’s 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 unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world. (From the pubisher.)

Author Bio
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. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Frank Banning may be the most endearing scene-stealer you’ll ever meet in the pages of a book.... Johnson proves it’s possible to write a comic novel that, at times, is heartbreaking.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Readers will find themselves captivated.

Hilarious, poignant and full of unexpected gems, BE FRANK WITH ME illuminates the strange ways literature can parallel life, and introduces readers to one of the most charming, lovable and maddening children in fiction.
Huffington Post

Delightful. You will laugh out loud.

Witty dialogue, irresistible characters, and a touch of mystery make this sweet debut about a quirky Hollywood family an enjoyable page-turner.

(Starred review.) Johnson's magnificently poignant, funny, and wholly original debut goes beyond page-turner status. Readers will race to the next sentence. And the next. Her charming, flawed, quietly courageous characters, each wonderfully different, demand a second reading while we impatiently await the author's second work. —Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Library Journal

Poor Alice has her hands full navigating these socially disabled characters through the disasters they bring upon themselves while also endeavoring to solve mysteries about their past and getting tangled up with their sexy family friend Xander. The curious incident of where'd you go, Salinger: clever, sweet, but a bit derivative.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Be Frank with Me...then take off on your own:

1. What's the matter with M.M. Banning—not just that she was swindled out of a fortune...but what's really wrong with her? Deeply wrong?

2. Frank never receives a "formal diagnosis" in the book. Does he need one? Would you consider him Asperger-ish? Describe some of his more unusual qualities, especially his sartorial habits. Do you find him endearing...or not?

3. What is Alice like? She appears naive, but is she? Would you say that's she's the ideal person for the job? In what way might you say she's a foil for Alice?

4. Follow up to Question 3: Why is Alice so interested in finding out who Frank's father is?

5. Why does Mimi never warm up to Alice?

6. Comparisons have been made with this book and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. If you've read Mark Haddon's novel, do you see similarities between the two books?

7. Mimi describes the other mothers in California this way:

If you ask me, I think every small town mean girl in America who's pretty but not much else comes out here to die. The ones who smile like lunatics and wear yoga pants all day are the worst. At PTA meetings they're like those chickens that have to wear tiny glasses in poultry barns so they won't peck each other's eyes out.

If you're from California, does this description offend you? Or does it fit? If you're not from California, do you know people (men or women) like this?

8. Zander—what about him? He seems reliable but not always, and he can't seem to commit to anyone. Why not? Once Zander enters the story, the focus of the novel shifts. What does his character bring to the plot?

9. Almost everyone in this book is affected by loss: how does each character cope with his/her sadness? Is it ever possible to fill the gap someone has left behind?

10. Did you find the book funny? Pinpoint and read aloud some of the more humorous passages.

11.Consider the ending: does it tie up all the loose strings...or feel somewhat unresolved? Some love the ending, others find it lacking. What do you think?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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