E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1967, in Richmond, VA; Education: College graduate; attended writing class at New School of Social Research (now New School University).
Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012.
Psychotherapist and clinical social worker in New York, NY; author of young adult novels.
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selection, American Library Association (ALA), 2001, for Life Is Funny; Best Books for Young Adults selection, ALA, and Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist, both 2003, both for America; Best Books for Young Adults selection, ALA, 2004, for Friction.
Life Is Funny, DK Ink (New York, NY), 2000.
America, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Friction, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
Wave, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Rush Hour.
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 established a psychotherapy practice in Manhattan, Frank has had many troubled youths pass her way; in fact, a full third of her caseload has been adolescents. Frank brings her experience and expertise in the area of teen problems to bear in her novels about young New Yorkers at risk and dealing with trauma. Beginning with Life Is Funny, and continuing in America, Friction, and Wave, Frank presents 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. Although inspired by the experiences she has had as a clinical psychologist, the author maintains that "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."
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, 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 a form of therapy with her clients, Frank finally began writing herself in 1996.
Frank did not have a particular audience in mind when composing her first book, a tale of eleven kids that is composed of interlocking stories. Her young protagonists narrate their misadventures over a seven-year period, each in his or her distinctive voice. When she was finished with the manuscript, Frank took the advice of friends and submitted it to a literary agent who liked the story and sent it on to Richard 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?" According to Booklist critic Hazel Rochman, "Each chapter, each vignette within a chapter, builds to its own climax, and the stories weave together to surprise you." More praise came from a contributor for Publishers Weekly, who remarked 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 Life Is Funny, "an arresting, accomplished first novel."
Frank continues her gritty investigations of adolescence and young adulthood with 2002's America, a "heartbreaking story of survival, forgiveness, and redemption," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor Jennifer Ralston. In the book Frank tells the story of America, a confused fifteen-year-old boy of mixed race who is lost in the labyrinthine 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 America a "wrenching tour de force" as well as a "work of sublime humanity," while Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg found it a "piercing, unforgettable novel." Kathleen Isaacs, writing in School Library Journal, felt that Frank's "control of this story is impressive." For Horn Book contributor 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 the Journal of Adolescence & Adult Literacy, commented that America "is not for the immature reader" because its complex plot makes it "sophisticated in delivering disturbing experiences." Crabtree went on to note, though, that mature "adolescents will find a connection to [America's] voice and self-acceptance. America is worth finding and getting to know." In Friction Frank again deals with teen trauma and abuse. In this novel, she focuses on an eighth-grade classroom, a microcosm in which friction 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 kid on the cusp of adolescence, Alex loves soccer, her buddy, Tim, and her teacher, Simon, who she considers to be 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 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 re-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 a "provocative novel" that is "sure to spark heated discussions." Kliatt reviewer Rohrlick also observed that Frank "doesn't shy away from difficult topics," and that Friction serves as 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 contributor Bridget T. McCaffrey commended Alex's narrative voice as "genuine" and "believable."
Speaking with Westmoore, Frank summed up her approach to writing for young adults. "I don't write to make a point," she 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, February 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Life Is Funny, p. 1152; February 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of America, p. 1013; July, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Friction, p. 1886; January 1, 2004, Lolly Gepson, review of Friction (audiobook), p. 893.
Buffalo News, February 11, 2002, Jean Westmoore, "The Story of a Boy Named 'America,'" p. A7.
Horn Book, May, 2000, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Life Is Funny, p. 313; March-April, 2002, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of America, pp. 211-212; July-August, 2003, Bridget T. McCaffrey, review of Friction, p. 455; March-April, 2004, Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, review of America (audiobook), p. 199.
Journal of Adolescent and 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, January, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of America, pp. 5-6; July, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Life Is Funny, p. 18; May, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Friction, p. 8; November, 2003, Sherri F. Ginsberg, review of Friction (audiobook), p. 48.
New York Times, May 19, 2002, Mary Harris Russell, "Lost Boy," p. 24L.
Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2000, review of Life Is Funny, 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 (audiobook), p. 25.
St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), February 16, 2004, Holly Atkins, interview with 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, Lynn Evarts, review of Friction (audiobook), p. 91, and Jennifer Ralston, review of America, p. 99.*
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