Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Be Frank with Me

Be Frank with Me

4.7 19
by Julia Claiborne Johnson

See All Formats & Editions

A sparkling debut combining the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s


A sparkling debut combining the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

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.

When Alice Whitley arrives she’s put to work as a companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric son, who has the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders. The longer she spends with the Bannings, the more Alice becomes obsessed with two questions: Who is Frank’s father? And will Mimi ever finish that book?

Full of countless only-in-Hollywood moments, Be Frank With Me is a heartwarming story of a mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who is pulled into their unforgettable world.

“Julia Claiborne Johnson has struck gold in creating Frank Banning—a one-of-a-kind exasperating, witty, and endearing nine-year-old genius who functions as the beating heart of this marvelous book.” —Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Members

Editorial Reviews

Julie Schumacher
“Julia Claiborne Johnson has struck gold in creating Frank Banning -- a one-of-a-kind exasperating, witty and endearing nine-year-old genius who functions as the beating heart of this marvelous book.”
Joshilyn Jackson
“Witty, but never cutesy. Deeply felt, but never sentimental. Peopled with deeply flawed, fully realized characters I cared about... I loved every minute I spent in Julia Claiborne Johnson’s glass house with her cast of dedicated stone-throwers. This one is special---don’t miss it.”
John Searles
“There’s so much to love about this novel: the hilarious one-liners, the unforgettable characters, the unexpected moments of tenderness and all the funny, sad, poignant twists and turns this story takes. I lost myself in these pages and you will too.”
Laura Nicole Diamond
“Julia Claiborne Johnson has written an effervescent gem of a novel, expertly balancing on a literary tightrope between lighthearted and heartbreaking. BE FRANK WITH ME is peopled by characters at once utterly unique, and entirely authentic. I may re-read this book just to spend more time with Frank.”
Julia Sweeney
Beautifully written, brimming with insight, mystery, and benevolent wit, Julia Johnson had me gripped from the first chapter to the final page of BE FRANK WITH ME.”
Dave Foley
“BE FRANK WITH ME is complex, nuanced, detailed and profound. In other words, funny, in the best, most resonant way. Read it with both eyes because it will delight both the thinky and the feely parts of your brain.”
Marisa de los Santos
“What a charmer this book is! From the very first page, I fell hard for Frank, an adorable oddball with an amazing brain, a wardrobe to die for, and a lonely fragility that pierced my heart again and again.”
“Witty dialogue, irresistible characters, and a touch of mystery make this sweet debut about a quirky Hollywood family an enjoyable page-turner.”
“Readers will find themselves captivated.”
Huffington Post
“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.”
“Delightful. You will laugh out loud.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“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.”
“Julia Claiborne Johnson ably conjures a quirky cast and a privileged California world. BE FRANK WITH ME is about being an outsider and the ways in which differences help others see the world in a new way. Like Frank, this offbeat story has a big heart.”
New York Times Book Review
“A lot of fun to be had along the way. Sit back…and enjoy the show.”
Sunday Times (London)
“Simply delightful...A warm and friendly book, with characters you want to get to know.”
Daily Mail (London)
“Johnson’s spare, wry, Salingeresque style evokes those great oddball novels of the past and provides a charming take on the parent-of-challenged-child theme.”
Irish Times
“This book has stayed with me since I turned the last page. Frank is one of the most memorable children in contemporary fiction.”
Library Journal
★ 12/01/2015
M.M. Banning, a reclusive one-mega-hit novelist now in her 50s and living in Bel Air, CA, with her nine-year-old-son, Frank, is in trouble. Brought to the brink of bankruptcy by a Madoff-like investment adviser, Banning is up against a deadline to finish her long-awaited second novel (she was 19 when she was skyrocketed to fame by the success of her first book). Banning needs an assistant to manage both her household and Frank, an eccentric genius who is a walking sartorial delight (inspired mostly by 1930s movies) as well as a whirling dervish with perilous tendencies. Banning's New York publisher sends his assistant Alice Whitley to the rescue. Alice's gifts for managing Banning's acerbically rigid demands and Frank's enormous behavioral challenges are beautifully inspired by her lovely heart. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 8/17/15.]—Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
School Library Journal
Alice, a New York publishing house assistant, arrives in Bel-Air thinking she's going to help a famous novelist with her new book. Instead, she becomes the companion to the novelist's nine-year-old son, Frank, who not only loves old movies but dresses like their stars. Clever, thoughtful, touching, and at times hilarious. (http://ow.ly/41KX305MyLb)—Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Public Library, CA

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Be Frank with Me 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All of the characters are a bit quirky and totally engaging. Frank, especially, is as unforgetable as Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird or any other fictional child I have ever loved!
Twink More than 1 year ago
Okay, I'm just going to start this post off by saying that Julia Claiborne Johnson's debut novel, Be Frank With Me, is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2016. Mimi Banning wrote one book twenty years ago - a brilliant book that brought her wealth and fame. But Mimi is a recluse. And now she's a broke recluse, having fallen victim to a Ponzi scheme. So, she needs to write a new novel. You see, it's not just Mimi - she has a nine year old son named Frank to support. She needs someone to watch Frank and run her household while she writes, so her long time publisher sends her twenty something Alice. That's the basic premise. But the premise is only a vehicle for the most wonderful character I've met in a long time. Okay, all of the players in Be Frank With Me were well written - and they're all flawed in some fashion, but it's Frank that will capture your heart. I loved him from the first page..."Before we left the house that morning, he'd shellacked his hair like a mini Rudolph Valentino, put on a wing-collared shirt, white tie and vest, a cutaway coat, morning pants and spats. Also a top hat...." Frank chooses his outfit carefully each day, matching plans, excursions and adventures to his outfits. That's the outside of Frank. Inside is a boy with a brilliant mind, who doesn't quite see the world as everyone else does. But despite that brilliant mind, he's still a young boy who is fragile as he tries to make sense of relationships and interactions in that world. The dialogue in Be Frank With Me is superb - Frank's voice is wonderful and as we come to know Frank, his declarations and antics really do make sense. I loved his recollection of facts, movies and music. (And actually learned a few things as well!) But those facts serve another purpose as well..."Facts were all the protection he had. Facts were his force field." Mimi is quite prickly and at first I didn't like her. But as the novel progressed, my opinion changed. As did my views on Alice - good to bad to good. And that's what I enjoyed - no one was perfect and the ending wasn't all happy campers. By turns, Be Frank With Me is heartbreaking, humourous and oh so very, very good. As one character says" I love that kid". Trust me - you will too.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“’Frank will be okay, Alice,’ Mr. Vargas said. ‘He’s an odd duck, but brilliant children often are. It may take him a while, but someday he’ll figure out how to live in the world of ordinary mortals.’” Be Frank With Me is the first novel by American author, Julia Claiborne Johnson. When reclusive author, M.M.Banning (aka Mimi Gillespie) contacts Isaac Vargas, her New York publisher, to ask for help with a new book, he is prepared to bend over backwards to assist. Years ago, her first (and only) book was such a popular bestseller that she went into hiding in California; now, a drastic change in financial circumstances means Mimi needs a publishing success. Which is why accountancy graduate, Alice Whitely finds herself on Mimi’s Bel Air doorstep, her brief being to do whatever is necessary to allow Mimi to finish her book. When she meets nine-year-old Frank, she is at once fascinated, curious and, quite soon, wondering just what she has let herself in for. Because Frank is different: his encyclopaedic knowledge of the film industry and his movie-character wardrobe ensure that he stands apart, wherever he goes. Johnson gives her reader a cast of characters who, for all their flaws, are truly appealing: despite his quirks (or perhaps because of them), Frank is instantly likeable; Mimi is prickly and rude, but her obvious love for Frank overrides that in spades; Alice misses the point occasionally, but her heart is in the right place, as is Xander’s, even if reliability is not his forte. While there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, there are also quite a few to choke the reader up, and Johnson explores some age-old issues: how overwhelming guilt can affect the one who bears it; and why society sets such a high value on conformity. And while the plot involves broken glass, explosions and fire, as well as a bit of detective work, there is a heart-warming happy ending. This is a stunning debut novel: poignant, thought-provoking and, above all, very funny. With thanks to GoodReads for this Giveaway copy to read and review.
nfmgirl 3 months ago
This story is narrated by Alice, who is assigned to assist Mimi by Mimi's editor Mr. Vargas. Mimi wrote a huge hit when she was nineteen, and has written nothing since (think Harper Lee). Now financial woes are driving her to write another novel. When Alice arrives at Mimi's, she finds that she will actually be more of a babysitter to Mimi's son Frank than Mimi's assistant. Frank...oh, Frank. How do you describe Frank? Well, he's described in the book as a miniature Charlie Chaplin. With the mind of Albert Einstein, he dresses like a 1930s movie star, and evokes in those close to him equal amounts of adoration and terror. He evoked the same emotions in me. I adored Frank, but I also don't really think I would choose to have a Frank in my life. Mimi isn't kidding when she says, "My life was so much easier before I had Frank." Frank who has to have scissors and matches hidden from him. For example, one time he uses a battery and wire to start a fire when Alice can't find matches. Dear Frank, who has outbursts (sometimes violent, but always attention-getting). Frank is a handful, but he is also very endearing. Mimi is a very accommodating mother, letting Frank be Frank. She seems hard and stern, but she has a soft side with Frank. Her love for him is evident. Alice is doing her best to keep the house running, so Mimi can focus on writing. And she's doing a pretty fine (albeit thankless) job of it until Xander shows up and throws a bit of a hitch into things. My final word: I really liked this story. It was sweet and touching and quirky, if sad at times. Alice is a fine and reliable narrator for the story, and she has an intuition on how to handle Frank. Mimi is a tough old bird, and she ironically has a lot of walls for someone who lives in a glass house. Frank is "misunderstood". In a Procrustean world that doesn't look kindly on "different", Frank is like a spotlight in a dark room. He stands out and at times he's somewhat glaring and ostentatious. This is a quick, sweet story full of interesting characters and offbeat moments. I will most definitely be recommending this one to my book club! 4 1/2 stars
Anonymous 7 months ago
Great characters in an unusual story. The longer you read the better it gets.
WhisperingStories 7 months ago
Be Frank With Me immediately stood out with its bright teal cover and simple artwork – I enjoyed the aesthetic and it fits perfectly with the persona of Frank, too. Be Frank With Me is told through the eyes of Alice, a young twenty-something sent to help out at the home of M. M. Branning (Mimi) whilst she knuckles down and writes a sequel to her one hit wonder novel. However, it isn’t just boring house cleaning and upkeep – Alice also has to look after Mimi’s eccentric son, Frank, who is the real star of the book. Reading this book in the 21st century, it is obvious that Frank has some form of disability or mental health problems. Whilst I’m definitely not an expert, so cannot delve further into this, I enjoy that there is no mention of this throughout the book. Yeah, Frank sees a psychiatrist, but is there an official diagnosis? No. Frank is Frank – the energetic, curious, eccentric, highly intelligent Frank. Frank is very similar to his Uncle Julian – I think this highlights that whilst times may change and we now feel as though we all MUST be diagnosed if we are slightly ‘different’, this has not always been the case. Yes, a diagnosis may help Frank and his family in understanding his actions and controlling his outbursts, but at the end of the day he is still a loved, happy little boy – diagnosed or undiagnosed. Just goes to show that we don’t always necessarily need a ‘label’ for our differences, flaws or issues. Frank is such an intriguing character, that I was eager to continue reading to learn more about him. Some reviews online state that there isn’t much of a plot, and it’s pretty boring. I have to disagree. Yes, this novel isn’t full of action and drama, but the fact that it doesn’t need to be packed to the brim of energetic events shows how strong a novel it is. To some, half a page of factual information was overkill, but in my opinion, without Frank’s monotone fact recital it would be difficult to understand the speed and way in which his mind jumps from one thing to another – one of the key things that make Frank, well, Frank! The author has managed to portray Frank in a believable manner (I feel the urge to note that I cannot call Frank’s character ‘realistic’ as I don’t know anyone with any similar attributes to compare), and also hits the nail on the head of Alice, too. Xander, on the other hand, I felt difficult to grasp. I didn’t really think he added much to the plot and found his household role difficult to understand. I do get the gut feeling he may have been added in afterwards, in order to get a couple of pages’ worth of romance in the book. Mimi, also, was a strange one – whilst I found her character difficult to understand on paper, I feel as though she would make an excellent character should the novel ever be made into a film. I would LOVE to see this made into a high budget film FYI – J-Law would make a fab Alice! The only negative I have to say about this book, is that I wasn’t left completely satisfied with the ending. I guess I just wanted it to end differently, although I do like that the story-line is left open – you could very easily write a sequel, as there isn’t any devastating finale or restricted cliff-hanger. I would happily read more books on Frank’s life and would love to see how he ages whilst remaining his eccentric self. There was also a lot of loose ends that I feel need tying up – what happens when Mimi finds out Frank hasn’t been going to school?....
Anonymous 7 months ago
First time I've felt compelled to write a review. I just loved this story.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Enjoyed reading very much! Worth reading
MeezCarrie More than 1 year ago
Frank Banning is probably one of my favorite characters in recent fiction. He’s endearing and quirky and frustrating – so much depth and dimension in such a young guy. But then again, all of the characters in Be Frank With Me are like that. Not to the delightful extremes of Frank, perhaps, but all are endearing in their own way – most with a set of quirks that are intriguing and often frustrating. While the subject matter of Be Frank With Me isn’t a laughing matter per se, the author’s writing voice is so witty and the character of Frank so entertaining that you will find yourself grinning and laughing throughout the book anyway. When Alice first meets Frank, in fact, he is wearing silver cufflinks shaped like the masks of Comedy and Tragedy. In many ways, this can be seen as a subtle note from the author, a foreshadowing of sorts as to the tone of the book. A little bit of comedy and a little bit of tragedy mixed together in a hilarious, heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking story of family and love and finding your place. It’s also an homage of sorts to Los Angeles and old Hollywood and the kind of movies where people danced and sang and gave us great lines like “Here’s looking at you, kid”. Scattered throughout the book, whether because Frank is extolling their virtues or because he’s being compared to their style, these classic movies add to both the quirkiness and sentimentality of the story overall. In what I consider a stroke of genius, someone over at HarperCollins decided to include in the bonus pages (for books clubs, etc.) a section on “Recommended Film Viewing” with several of the films mentioned in the novel and the endearing quotes to remind you where they appeared. Made me smile all over again! Be Frank With Me is one of those brilliantly written books that is so much more than it first appears to be. Even with so much depth it is a quick read, yet it’s one you want to savor and it will definitely be one I reread. The characters have life and breath and are larger than the words on the page… and they take up residence in your heart where they continue to linger after you’ve finished reading. Witty and endearing in spite of the heartbreaking, Julia Claiborne Johnson strikes exactly the right tone for this novel and is an author I will keep on my watch list! (I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engaging characters and heart. Loved this book through and through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this story about quirky little Frank and his equally unusual mother.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sensitive and refreshing, a charming read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started reading and could not put it down. While every character had a story, I simply fell in love with Frank!
Dmaxtownsend More than 1 year ago
Alice Whitley has been tasked by her publisher boss to do whatever eccentric author M.M. Banning needs of her while she finishes writing her long-awaited second novel. Alice, a virtual babe in the woods, finds herself in California running the author’s household, cooking, cleaning and taking care of Frank, the author’s nine-year-old son while Mom retreats to her office to write. Frank is quirky, smart, fragile and oh so lovable. He doesn’t dress, he costumes. Today he might be Peter Pan, tomorrow Oliver Twist. His world view is taken mostly from vintage movies. He does not understand jokes or joking or irony. Where he goes, accidents and injuries usually follow. He has a cadre of adults who love him, but no childhood friends. He is a treasure: charming, frustrating, loving, and sharp as the tacks he so loves. Johnson has created a delightful character in Frank. He had much maturing to do, but we know he will never really fit in, and that’s good news. Why should he? This child, who is sometimes the only adult in the room, has captured my heart. I love this book. I want a sequel, even though it probably is not practical. I also would like to see this as a movie but would worry about being disappointed as we so often are with the movies our favorite reads turn out to be. This book deserves to be read and reread. Please do!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A short but sweet poignant story. I enjoyed this book greatly. Maybe, because as an educator and a parent, I recognize many of the Franks, Mimis, Xanders and Alices that I have had in my life. We need to learn, as a society, to value the often brilliant, non-conformity of others, and the struggles they face in a society that pushes for us to confirm.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've read in a long time Frank will capture your heart
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Completely different from what I have read in the past.
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson is a very highly recommended novel about a reclusive writer, her exceptional son, and the assistant sent to help her. After writing a beloved award winning novel decades ago at age 19, M. M. “Mimi” Banning is a recluse who never published another word. Now, after losing all her money, she has to write another book. She contacts her editor, Isaac Vargas, and says she will write a new book, but has two stipulations. First, she wants a large advance. Second the assistant who will be sent at the publisher's expense to ensure she meets her deadline must be able to drive, cook, clean, be sane, not an English major or Ivy Leaguer, and be good with kids. Vargas sends Alice Whitley, a 24 year old accounting major from Nebraska. Alice has been working as an assistant to Mr. Vargas and he thinks she is the perfect candidate to keep an eye on acerbic Mimi and take care of her son, Frank. Once Alice arrives, Mimi insists on calling her Penny, because she "looks like a Penny," and Mimi locks herself in her den to write. Alice becomes the care taker for nine year old Frank. Frank has a couple rules, starting with don't touch his things and don't touch him without permission. Clearly he is an intelligent boy with some form of Autism. He enjoys dressing in complete outfits, usually based on movies from the 1930's. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of older movies and a photographic memory for all manner of facts. Frank is partly charming and partly challenging. Life isn't easy for this displaced nine year old who requires constant supervision, rarely sleeps, and meets regularly with his psychiatrist. There are many items that Alice must keep from Frank, like scissors and matches, while she must also accept the fact that he will go through her things and is light fingered. Alice becomes increasingly curious about Frank. Who is his father? How does the mysterious piano teacher Xander fit into the picture? And is Mimi really writing her novel behind that door? Johnson delivers a wonderful debut novel with Be Frank with Me. The narrative will fully engage you. It's funny, poignant, and a satisfying story that will have you racing to see what happens next. The writing is pitch perfect as Johnson captures precocious Frank and matter-of-fact Alice. I finished Be Frank with Me in one sitting, which signifies Johnson's ability to write a novel that will hold and keep your attention. While on the surface Be Frank with Me seems like a light-hearted, fun read, but there is much more to this novel should you care to ponder it. Johnson provides some real depth in her characters. They are all unique individuals with a backstory and well developed. I did question why the school wasn't helping Frank more or offering supportive services when he'd clearly qualify for some support, but I was willing to suspend my questions about this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author failed to develop the characters .Frank had autistic tendencies that should of been mentioned , The book was a sleeper .