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When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion to monitor the progress that reclusive literary legend M. M. ''Mimi'' Banning is making on her latest book, she is put to work right away as a fulltime companion to Frank, the writer's eccentric nineyearold, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourthgraders. As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank's father is, how his gorgeous ''piano teacher and itinerant male role model'' Xander fits into the Banning family equation and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

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