Frankie & Bug

Frankie and Bug

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Book Review

Ten-year-old Beatrice “Bug” Contreras was looking forward to a summer in the sun and surf of Venice Beach with her older brother, Danny. But then 14-year-old Danny declared he wanted his “space” this year. Boo! Bug’ll have to be saddled with a kid named Frankie, a visiting nephew of a neighbor. And he doesn’t even like the beach. Or swimming. Or talking, for that matter.

The summer of 1987 could end up being a total disaster … or maybe the best one ever.

Plot Summary

When the summer of 1987 finally rolled around, 10-year-old Beatrice Contreras (a.k.a. “Bug”) was pretty excited. She and her brother, Danny, had spent the last two summers together splashing in the surf and roaming Venice Beach.

Their single mom had some pretty strict “conditions” (which are really rules, nobody’s fooled) if they were going to be out there on their own and not go to the Y camp for the summer. But that suited Bug just fine. She didn’t mind sticking like a second skin to Danny. It kinda made her feel safe. And they had fun.

Well, she always thought they had fun anyway.

But it turns out that this year, 14-year-old Danny—no wait, he wants to be called Daniel now. Yeah, this year, dumb ol’ Daniel wants more space! So, Bug can’t splash in the water and tan on the beach. She has to stick right around their apartment building while Daniel runs with his stupid friends. Ugh!

Bug thought she might get a reprieve from her summer prison sentence when she learned that another kid, Frankie, was visiting his uncle—their neighbor upstairs—for the summer. Mom promised she and Frankie could hang out if they followed those same conditions. But turns out, Frankie doesn’t like the beach. (Who doesn’t like the beach?!) He won’t go swimming. He doesn’t even talk much. Frankie just sits there making notes in his notebook about the Midnight Marauder, some serial thug who’s been attacking people in nearby communities in the dead of night.

Bug couldn’t care less about some dumb old Midnight guy! But … adults keep telling her that “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” (Which is a pretty silly thing to say when you think about it. I mean, who wants to catch flies?) Bug decides that instead of griping about Frankie, she’ll help him. Maybe together they can catch this Midnight Marauder. And then go to the beach.

This could end up being the dumbest summer in the world … or maybe, the best!

Christian Beliefs

No specific aspects of faith are addressed here. But it’s implied that Mom’s parents and sister are church-goers. After Mom’s sister, Aunt Teri, makes some lightly veiled racist and homophobic statements, Mom says, “That’s not how my God operates.”

Other Belief Systems

None.

Authority Roles

Bug’s mom is loving and focused on keeping Bug and Danny safe. In fact, she sets up a system of people (including neighbors in their apartment building and a lifeguard at the local beach) who keep a close eye on the kids.

The Contreras family members are all close with their upstairs neighbor (Philip) and the Hungarian woman who lives downstairs (Hedvig). Those neighbors are complicated individuals, but they step up to help the kids, wisely guiding and protecting them.

It’s through both Mom’s and Philip’s wise encouragements that Bug is able to eventually find common ground with Frankie. Bug and Frankie are very different, but they begin to find common ground and eventually become the best of friends.

Mom also talks to Bug about prejudice in the world—something that she, Bug and Danny are faced with because of Danny’s darker skin color.

“Everyone is prejudiced, Bug. It’s what you do with the prejudices that matters,” Mom tells her daughter. “You can either give in to prejudice and treat people badly just because they’re different from you. Or you can shine a light on it, to understand how arbitrary it all is and judge people for who they are, not what they are.”

Bug finds out that Philip—a piano teacher—is gay after he’s attacked while coming out of a gay bar. This horrible event opens Bug’s eyes to several things, including the concept that homophobia and racism are very much a part of her world. Bug begins noticing other things, too, and is exposed to the idea that a pink-haired person she’s met on the local boardwalk is transsexual.

[Spoiler Warning] We later find out that Frankie is actually a girl who dresses and maintains the persona of a boy, something his father back home in Ohio is adamantly opposed to. His summer in California was designed as a way for Frankie to “get it out of his system.”

Those elements—the idea that people have the right to choose their gender and sexuality and the fact that others are often opposed to such things—become the core of this story. It’s implied that people of faith and the police all trend toward having racist and bigoted reactions.

Profanity & Violence

There’s no profanity in the dialogue but someone’s “butt crack” is mentioned; there’s some name calling, including “cockroach;” and someone is said to have “the bejesus” scared out of them.

We hear of a man who has attacked and killed people. Bug, Danny and Mom are lightly threatened on the street by skinhead gang members. Later, Bug and Frankie make a foolish decision and face down some of those same skinheads who move to hurt them before the kids get away.

Philip is attacked and beaten—suffering a broken rib and punctured lung. But Bug only sees the bruised and swollen aftermath after picking him up from the hospital.

Bug sees a group of skinheads passing a bottle of booze around.

Sexual Content

Aunt Teri wants to go on a bus tour of the rich and famous, a tour that visits a shah’s house that supposedly has a “harem.” Bug wonders what that means, but she never gets a clear answer. It’s also implied that Mom and Dad didn’t marry until after she was pregnant.

Danny tends to hang out at Muscle Beach, a place where men and women exercise and lift weights. Bug notices that he’s starting to tone up his muscles, and Danny meets a girl there who he works out and surfs with. Skinheads make crude allusions to Mom’s sexual tendencies and what they perceive to be a habit of sleeping around.

Bug and Frankie talk to people on the boardwalk and hear a number of sexual terms that they aren’t familiar with. A transsexual named Flo tries to clear things up saying, “Queer stands as a term of love for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals.”

Discussion Topics

This story talks a lot about getting to know people who are different from you without being judgmental. What did you think about while reading it?

How do you deal with people who are different from you? How should you? The book of Samuel says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” What do you think that means?

The Bible also talks about how God created us—as male and female. How do you think you can approach issues in both truth and love?

1 Corinthians 16:14 says, “Let all that you do be done in love.” What does that mean? Do you approach people in love? Take a look at 1 Timothy 2:1-15. How do you think that applies to this book and its story?

What kinds of things do you have in common with Bug or Frankie? Do you think you could be friends with them? What are their greatest strengths, in your opinion? What did Mom do to keep Danny and Bug safe? Do you feel safe and loved?

Get free discussion question for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Additional Comments

Frankie & Bug has received quite a bit of praise from reviewers and library associations. And it does paint a compelling summer picture of kids forging a friendship and a family helping one another, that’s all seen from a 10-year-old’s perspective.

Parents should note, however, that this book is centered on promoting lessons of social inclusion, acceptance and justice.  It doesn’t flinch from openly addressing topics of racism, AIDS, homophobia and transgenderism.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose