Legendary writer M.M. “Mimi” Banning hid herself away after feeling suffocated by the fame that accompanied winning a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award at age 20. The only piece of work the reclusive author has managed to produce since then is her son, Frank, a brilliant fourth-grader who uses smart 1930s garb—like pocket squares and wingtips—and facts about the movie business as armor. But after losing her fortune, the tetchy literary talent must write a new book ASAP.
Enter Alice Whitley, an assistant deployed by Mimi’s editor to travel from New York City to L.A. to make sure Mimi is working. But Mimi doesn’t want Alice’s help, and Alice instead finds herself tasked with being Frank’s companion. Both taken with and frustrated by Frank’s eccentricites, Alice can’t help but be curious about the identity of the boy’s father—and how his handsome, flirty piano teacher fits into the cloistered family’s life. Meanwhile, Alice gently urges the frequently unpleasant Mimi to please, please finish her book.
In her debut, 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.