Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne JohnsonBe Frank With Me
by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Pub Date: February 2, 2016

You know the movie Benny & Joon, right? Excellent 90s flick that you must make time for if you haven’t already. One of the most memorable scenes is a young Johnny Depp in the diner:

So imagine Johnny Depp’s character in Benny & Joon except nine years old, and you have an idea of who Frank is.

Our protagonist Alice works for a New York editor. One day her editor gets contacted from one of his long-time clients, the reclusive M.M. Banning – she wrote one book many years previous that was a smash hit and continues to sell every year. M.M. Banning retreated to a house in California with minimal contact with the outside world, but had recently been swindled out of most of her money and needs cash. So she tells her publisher she will write another book (sure to be a smash no matter what – think along the lines of the recent Harper Lee book), but she has stipulations. She needs an assistant to run the house and her son so she can write the book. Alice is sent to keep house and make sure M.M. Banning writes her book on deadline.

When Alice shows up to the house, she gets a cold greeting from M.M. Banning, also known as Mimi, but is immediately entranced by Mimi’s eccentric nine-year-old son Frank. Frank has an extremely high IQ, dresses like an Old Hollywood star, complete with monocle, and doesn’t really know how to interact with children his own age. You are going to fall in love with Frank. The kid has his own coping mechanisms for dealing with real life, and Alice (to her credit) rolls with the punches. She can’t touch him unless he allows her to. She can’t touch his things. He has very elaborate ways of explaining very simple things. He references classic films a lot. And Mimi very literally holes up in her office typing and rarely emerges except to bark at Alice.

This is an adorable story. Here are a group of misfits, in one way or another, making up a household together. There’s the underlying mystery of Mimi herself that Alice tries to figure out during her time in the house, but really you just love Frank and his antics. Frank had shades of the eccentricities that my siblings and I had as kids (and still have to some degree), that I just felt a great love for the kid immediately. There’s a lot of depth to the story, too, even with the overall light-heartedness of the storytelling. These are flawed, real characters that you will come to understand and appreciate through and because of those flaws. And there’s the adorable and quirky Frank through the whole story that will give all the warm and fuzzies. I wish more kids could be allowed to be more like Frank, actually. Or retain his spirit and individuality more as they got older.

If you’re in need of a book comfort read, pick this one up. It’s soothing, it’s funny, it’s got just the right amount of conflict to keep things interesting. If you ever felt like an odd duck growing up, you’re going to love Frank.



One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

one crazy summerOne Crazy Summer

by Rita Williams-Garcia
Pub Date: January 26, 2010

“I couldn’t figure out why Eunice sat there with me. It was bad enough to feel stupid. I didn’t need anyone sitting with me reminding me of it.”

This was one of many lines I absolutely loved in this novel. Delphine’s voice is funny, relevant, and authentic. I could see an oldest sister acting and thinking like her—responsible beyond her years, yet still young and inexperienced. I loved reading about how Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern manage for a month with their uncaring, unmaternal mother in a new city surrounded by the Black Panther movement.

The three sisters, who live with their father and grandmother in Brooklyn, have to go spend a month in Oakland with the mother they haven’t seen for almost seven years. Unfortunately, their mother is not a welcoming presence. They are basically left to their own devices to get food and stay out of their mother’s way: no trips to the beach, no Golden Gate Bridge, and no Disneyland. Instead, they spend every day at a summer camp for children to learn about and support the Black Panther Movement, get dinner takeout to eat on the floor, and avoid disrupting their mother’s peace.

I liked how real the girls were in this book, especially Delphine. She reminded me of several older sisters I have known who took responsibility for their siblings at a young age. The sisters fight, manipulate, and harass each other, but you can see the love and support underneath. I had a hard time relating to the mother, but such a woman is not completely unbelievable. The Black Panther Movement adds a great historical twist, as well. It showed a different side of the Black Panther Movement- most history books focus on the guns and violence, not reaching out to the children in the community with free breakfasts.

If you like strong, cute, authentic young characters who handle a difficult situation with stubborn resilience and humor, I would highly recommend this book.