Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free through GoodReads in exchange for my honest review.
Despite the old (often true) saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”, I am still a firm believer that there are some books you look at once and the moment you see the cover, you immediately fall in love. That’s exactly how I felt with Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank With Me. Everything about it was so beautiful. I love the Robin’s Egg Blue color used on the background, the perfect choice in typography, and most of all, the mysterious looking top hat and eye glass on the cover. It was simple, but complex enough to capture my interest.
I also knew I was going to love this book because after reading the back cover and the description on GoodReads, I saw that this was a book about a writer in the process of writing a novel. Being a writer in the process of writing a novel myself I can relate to this story all too well.
However, what I didn’t realize at first was that this book is less about a writer writing a novel and more about Frank, a 10 year old child with autism.
I read a lot of books and I meet a lot of characters in those books, but it’s been a long time since I met a character I loved as much as I loved Frank.
Despite having autism, Frank is such a lovable and charming little boy with a level of intelligence well beyond his years. His special trait that really makes him stand out isn’t necessarily his autism, but rather, his exquisite fashion sense. Whereas other 10 year boys are sporting t-shirts and grass-stained jeans,Frank is dressed better than Jay Gatsby and Charlie Chaplin combined with his top hats, suits, ties, and even cuff links. Naturally, the other kids at school make fun of him for this and even his new principal goes against him, but I found myself rooting for him the entire time. I wanted more kids to dress like Frank — he was adorable and smarter than the other kids!
Be Frank With Me doesn’t just glorify autism, either. It shows you the realities of it, good and bad. While Frank is absolutely adorable, he is also an unintentional trouble maker. He accidentally injuries his mother. He burns down the guest house. He is impulsive and quick-thinking. Sometimes, his intelligence and his quick-thinking mind gets the best of him. But you can’t even be mad at him when he gets himself in trouble.
Frank takes everything literally. He doesn’t understand emotions or sarcasm or double meanings. He understands facts, statistics, and a black and white view of the world which is precisely why Johnson chose to call her book Be Frank With Me. Despite all of the challenges Frank causes the people in his life like Mimi and Alice, he is still perfect just the way he is. Nobody wants Frank to change. They love him just the way he is, suits and all.
Be Frank With Me forces the reader to reconsider everything that they ever assumed about autism in the past. Anyone with basic knowledge about autism will pick up on the fact that Frank is autistic fairly easily, yet the novel never actually uses the word “autism” or any variation of it. I believe that Johnson did this intentionally. Frank cannot be defined by his autism. He is so much more than autistic. He is sweet, caring, loving,very intelligent, charming, and incredibly dapper. Above all else? Frank is completely unforgettable.