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. Read an excerpt of Be Frank With Me.
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.Connect with Julia on Facebook and Twitter. See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here.