Book – It’s been a long time–possibly the year-and-a-half since Counting By 7s, another book featuring an unforgettably brilliant young character–since I’ve encountered a novel as tempting to recommend and hard to put down as Be Frank With Me.
Practical, responsible Alice Whitley, twenty-four, accepted the position of assistant to an affable New York publisher as a way to stave off the inevitable day when she would put her accountancy degree to its logical use. She wasn’t expecting to be dispatched to L.A. as chief cook and bottle washer to caustic author M.M. Banning, real name Mimi Gillespie, who wrote one classic as a teenager and hasn’t published a word since. Now in her fifties, Mimi has recently been swindled out of her fortune and needs to write another book, fast–not so much for her own sake as to provide for her son, Frank.
Frank Banning is the beating heart of Johnson’s book, as the title suggests. A miniature genius eccentric, this nine-year-old powerhouse dresses and talks like a jazz-age tycoon, rushes through the world like a disaster-prone human hurricane, has a seemingly bottomless well of facts at his command, and alternates between social ineptitude and piercing emotional insightfulness. Alice’s new role as Frank’s caretaker and companion shapes her relationships with Mimi, whose resentment sours her underlying gratitude, and with Frank’s “itinerant male role model,” the gorgeous handyman Xander, who bonds with Alice over their shared inside-outside place in the Gillespies’ world. But it is Alice’s growing friendship with Frank, often undemonstrative but deeply affectionate nonetheless, that makes Be Frank With Me so irresistible, as we fall in love with Frank–in all his glory–through Alice’s eyes.