Book review: 'Be Frank With Me' is a witty and winning debut

Posted September 13

"BE FRANK WITH ME," by Julia Claiborne Johnson, William Morrow, $25.99, 304 pages (f)

In Julia Claiborne Johnson’s debut book, “Be Frank With Me,” she proves life can be all at once funny, heartbreaking, messy and redemptive.

Reclusive and legendary author M.M. “Mimi” Banning (who one can't help compare to Harper Lee) has been living off of the royalties from her debut smash-hit novel but loses all of her money in a bad investment. Now, she needs to write another book to provide for herself and her 10-year-old son, Frank.

To help with this, her publisher sends Alice Whitley to Los Angeles to act as a live-in nanny, chef and chauffeur, among other things. When Alice arrives, she is quickly introduced to Frank’s strange but endearing ways and Mimi’s abrasive and absent personality.

Alice also finds out it is harder than she thought to get Mimi to write this book and easier than she thought to love a child that isn’t hers. She soon is on a mission to untangle the web of mystery surrounding Mimi’s past and Frank’s father, all the while adventuring through Hollywood with Frank as an irreplaceable companion.

Johnson’s narrator, Alice, has a quick and witty way about her, with a train-of-thought narration that is more organized and cohesive. The way she observes this new city and odd family, endears the reader to those two subjects, as well as Alice herself. Her character growth is the most obvious throughout the story.

Frank, in all his morning-suited, fact-quoting, family historian glory, steals the show. It’s not only his quirkiness that makes him stand out among a cast of otherwise regular characters, but it is also the way he sees the world and the way the world treats him in return that keeps the pages turning.

With heartbreaking stories involving loss, guilt and forgiveness, Johnson will tug at the heartstrings but in the everyday moments and the big bang surprises, she will make the reader laugh and reflect upon what is truly important in their lives.

“Be Frank With Me” doesn't contain any objectionable language but does contain a few nongraphic love scenes, mild bullying scenes and a nondescriptive instance of suicide.

Tara Creel is a Logan-native-turned-California-girl and mother of four boys. Her email is, and she blogs at


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all