Frank, E. R.
E. R. Frank
Born Emily R. Frank, 1967 in Richmond, VA. Education: Studied writing at New School, New York City.
Home—Montclair, NJ. Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012.
Psychotherapist, clinical social worker, writer.
NEXT Award, Teen People Book Club, and Quick Picks, American Library Association, both 2000, both for Life Is Funny; New York Times Notable Book and Best Book for YAs, American Library Association, both 2002, both for America.
Life Is Funny, DK Ink (New York, NY), 2000.
America, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Friction, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Rush Hour.
Film rights to America were purchased by Rosie O'Donnell; Friction was adapted for audiobook by Listening Library, 2003.
Work in Progress
Author Emily R. Frank, writing as E. R. Frank, has worked in prisons, day treatment centers, a middle school, and an outpatient mental health clinic. A clinical social worker who also has a psychotherapy practice in Manhattan, Frank has had many troubled youths pass her way. A full third of her caseload has been adolescents. Such clinical experience is evident in her novels about teens at risk and dealing with trauma. Beginning with Life Is Funny, and continuing in America and Friction, Frank has presented non-sensationalized yet haunting evocations of adolescents and teenagers confronted with daunting situations, including recognizing and surviving sexual abuse. "All of my characters are complete fiction," Frank assured Holly Atkins in an interview for the St. Petersburg Times. Though inspired by the experiences she has had as a clinical psychologist, "the characters in those books are not based on any one person." Rather they are a composite of many of the adolescents she has worked with over the years. Speaking with Jean Westmoore in the Buffalo News, Frank reiterated this point: "I do not write or talk about my clients at all. After so many years of working with kids, adolescents, [and] adults within the criminal justice system, I had this cumulative emotion of so many people who had been lost in the system and hadn't had the one kind of relationship that might have saved them."
Writing as Therapy
Born into a family of "voracious readers," as Jason Britton noted in a Publishers Weekly profile of the author, Frank gravitated to writing at an early age. She spent a lot of time during her childhood around her grandfather, the writer Gerold Frank, author of The Boston Strangler, American Death, and Judy. "When I was very young, it was because of [my grandfather] that I realized that a writing career was a possibility," Frank told Britton. A clinical social worker who sometimes used writing as therapy with her clients, Frank finally began writing herself in 1996. She did not have a particular audience in mind when composing her tale of eleven kids with interlocking stories. They narrate their misadventures over a seven-year period in their own distinctive voices. When she was finished, Frank took the advice of friends and submitted the manuscript to an agent. He liked the story and sent it on to Dick Jackson at DK Ink. Jackson also appreciated the story and gave Frank a call, during which he began the editorial process. "It was like a dream come true," Frank told Britton. "I felt honored to be working with him."
Published in 2000, Frank's debut novel, Life Is Funny, drew praise from critics. Alice Casey Smith, writing in School Library Journal, called the book a "choral piece of writing that sings of coming-of-age in a multiracial Brooklyn community." Dysfunctional families, racism, drugs, violence, divorce, death, molestation, violence, and abandonment all mar the lives of the book's seven adolescents, but they greet their predicaments with more than anger. As Smith noted, the characters "are boisterous and full of laughter, because after all is said and done, life is funny, isn't it?" More praise came from a contributor for Publishers Weekly, who thought that "the language is gritty, and some of the story lines will be intense for young readers, but this is ultimately an uplifting book about resilience, loyalty and courage." Paula Rohrlick, reviewing the title in Kliatt, pronounced the book "an arresting, accomplished first novel."
More Mean Streets
Frank continues her gritty investigations of adolescence and young adulthood with the 2002 America and the 2003 Friction. In the former title, Frank writes of America, a confused fifteen-year-old boy of mixed race who is lost in the system of foster care and hospitalization. So damaged is America by abandonment and abuse that he has tried to kill himself. When he becomes a patient in a residential psychiatric program, he is lucky enough to meet up with Dr. B, who slowly teaches him the lessons of survival.
Frank's second book was greeted with wide critical acclaim. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews called it a "wrenching tour de force" as well as a "work of sublime humanity," while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found it a "powerful story of forgiveness—both of oneself and of others." Kathleen Isaacs, writing in School Library Journal, felt that Frank's "control of this story is impressive." For Horn Book's Jennifer M. Brabander, "it's the strong, deeply felt connection created between protagonist and audience that makes this such a moving novel." Kristen R. Crabtree, writing in Journal of Adolescence & Adult Literacy, commented that America "is not for the immature reader; it's sophisticated in delivering disturbing experiences." Crabtree went on to note, though, that "adolescents will find a connection to [America's] voice and self-acceptance. America is worth finding and getting to know." Mary Harris Russell, writing in the New York Times, neatly summed up her opinion of the book as being "amazing grace from E. R. Frank."
With Friction Frank deals with more teen trauma and abuse. In this novel, Frank focuses on the microcosm of an eighth-grade classroom and the friction that can arise between students and teacher and between individual students. The book is told in the present tense from the point of view of twelve-year-old Alex, a student in an alternative school. A happy tomboyish adolescent on the edge of maturity, Alex loves soccer, her buddy, Tim, and her teacher, Simon, who is the best teacher in the school. Simon has managed, in fact, to win over the entire class with his unorthodox teaching style and his friendliness. But all this changes with the arrival of a new student in the class, Stacy. The new girl has real attitude and at first Alex is drawn to her. But soon Stacy begins spreading rumors that Simon has more than a friendly interest in Alex. Stacy accuses the teacher of being a "pervert," and soon the whole class, including Alex, is double-thinking their relationship with him. The police enter the picture, and Alex is confused when they ask her if Simon has ever touched her. Ultimately, through the intercession of Alex's psychiatrist father, things are straightened out, and it becomes apparent that in fact it is Stacy's father who is doing the abusing.
Again reviewers responded warmly to Frank's hard-hitting theme. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that the author "insightfully addresses topics of teen sexuality and child abuse" in this "provocative novel" that is "sure to spark heated discussions." Kliatt's Rohrlick also observed that Frank "doesn't shy away from difficult topics," and that Friction was an "excellent way for teachers, counselors, and parents to open up discussions of what constitutes sexual abuse." Rohrlick also thought the novel would be a "gripping read for younger adolescent girls." A critic for Kirkus Reviews praised Frank for a "subtly done" approach to a "combustible" subject, and Horn Book's Bridget T. McCaffrey commended Alex's narrative voice as "genuine" and "believable."
If you enjoy the works of E. R. Frank
If you enjoy the works of E. R. Frank, you may also want to check out the following books:
Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak, 1999. Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 1999.
Louise Luna, Brave New Girl, 2001.
Speaking with Westmoore, Frank summed up her approach to writing for young adults. "I don't write to make a point," Frank noted. "If people read [one of my novels] and take away from it some new information or feelings about action they want to take, that would be wonderful." In her interview with Atkins, Frank commented that she does not write with an "agenda." Instead, "what's important to me is that readers are moved or touched in some way and that when they finish a book, they feel they've been transported into the world of the characters for a short while."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Book, May-June, 2002, review of America, p. 29.
Booklist, January 1, 2004, Lolly Gepson, review of Friction, p. 893.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), February 11, 2002, Jean Westmoore, "The Story of a Boy Named 'America,'"p. A7.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 2, 2002, Nicholas Blincoe, review of America.
Horn Book, March-April, 2002, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of America, pp. 211; July-August, 2003, Bridget T. McCaffrey, review of Friction, p. 455; March-April, 2004, Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, review of America, p. 199.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, September, 2002, Kristen R. Crabtree, review of America, p. 83.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of America, p. 1684; May 1, 2003, review of Friction, p. 676.
Kliatt, July, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Life IsFunny, p. 18; May, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Friction, p. 8; July, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of America, p. 21; November, 2003, Sherri F. Ginsberg, review of Friction, p. 48.
New York Times, May 19, 2002, Mary Harris Russell, review of America, p. L24.
Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2000, review of Life IsFunny, p. 85; June 26, 2000, Jason Britton, "E. R. Frank," p. 32; January 7, 2002, review of America, p. 66; April 7, 2003, review of Friction, p. 68; June 16, 2003, review of Friction, p. 25.
St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), February 16, 2004, Holly Atkins, interview with E. R. Frank, p. E6.
School Library Journal, May, 2000, Alice Casey Smith, review of Life Is Funny, p. 172; March, 2002, Kathleen Isaacs, review of America, p. 230; October, 2003, review of America, p. S68; October, 2003, Jennifer Ralston, review of America, p. 99; October, 2003, Lynn Evarts, review of Friction, p. 91.
Metapsychology Online Book Reviews,http://mentalhelp.net/ (June 7, 2002), Liz Bass, review of America; (July 18, 2003), Christian Perring, review of Friction.
Teenreads.com,http://www.teenreads.com/ (2003), review of America.*