Girl, Unframed

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Girl, Unframed Book Poster Image
Teen faces danger and sexual awakening in uneven thriller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

San Francisco history, geography, and points of interest. Famous artists and their works discussed. Insight into what it's like to witness domestic violence and the fear that comes from living around it. Examples of common types of sexual harassment faced by girls and women.

Positive Messages

Speak up for yourself. Confide in those close to you, especially when you're going through tough times. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Don't let other people define who you are.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sydney is a smart, thoughtful teen trying to figure out her place in the world. Her friends seem to be good people who care about her, though we don't get to see much of them. Nicco is a sensitive, caring presence in Sydney's life. Edwina raised Sydney with love and is a stable adult presence in Sydney's life. All the characters are White or present as White. Nicco has lesbian parents. 

Violence

Lots of verbal sexual harassment directed at young women. Adult men leer at and catcall a teen girl. Teen has her butt grabbed a few times at a club. Reference to high school boys grabbing and forcing girls to kiss them. Discussion of Hollywood director sexually assaulting female stars. Man flashes a girl on the street. Several instances of overheard physical and verbal domestic violence, resulting in injuries. A man threatens a teen boy with a beating and grabs a teen girl hard by her neck. A stabbing death is described.

Sex

Relationship dynamics -- healthy and unhealthy -- figure heavily into the story. Several scenes of teens kissing and making out. Some of the make-out sessions are graphically described and include hands inside clothing and disrobing. Teen characters have sex a few times. Sydney thinks about desire and her sexual awakening a lot throughout the book. Discussion of the complicated feelings around becoming sexually attractive to others as a teen. Sydney overhears her mom having sex a few times.

Language

Some strong language but not frequent, including, "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "God, "Jesus," a--hole," "nuts," "butt," "boobs," "damn," "ass," "bitch," "goddamn," "c--t," "bastard," "slut," and "p---y."

Consumerism

Some brands and media mentioned for scene setting, including Target, Milk Duds, Reese's, Red Vines, Starbucks, Peet's, Land Rover Lamborghini, Hyundai, Honda, Subaru, Volkswagen, Buick, Nike, Netflix, iPhone, Coke, and Red Bull.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink in a few scenes, with references to Sydney's mom drinking too much on a few occasions. Sydney's mom drives teens home after drinking several glasses of wine. Teen takes half a sleeping pill with some wine. Nicco's moms smoke pot, which is legal where they live. Smell of pot in music venue.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Girl, Unframed, by Deb Caletti (A Heart in a Body in the World), is about a teen's complicated summer visiting her movie star mom. Sydney Reilly goes to boarding school in Seattle and calls her grandmother's nearby house home. She rarely sees her mom, the glamorous Lila Shore, who insists that Sydney come live with her in San Francisco for the summer. This ill-fated visit sets off a series of life-changing events for Sydney. A character dies a violent death, but who it is and how it happens isn't revealed until the end of the book. Physical and verbal domestic violence figure into the story, but it's overheard more than shown. Much of the book deals with Sydney's burgeoning sexuality and awareness of gendered double standards. Teens make out several times and have sex. There's some infrequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and "God"), and adults drink, sometimes to excess. The story offers discussion point around family dynamics, the expectations placed on young women, and what to do in situations of domestic violence.

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What's the story?

When we meet Sydney Reilly in GIRL, UNFRAMED, she's on the brink of her 16th birthday, planning to hang out all summer with her friends in Seattle, where she lives with her grandma. Instead, she's pressured into spending it in San Francisco with her mom, the famous movie star Lila Shore. At first, Sydney's biggest concern is endless weeks with nothing to do but look at the gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the mansion her mom lives in, but the boredom is quickly replaced by danger and fear. Jake, Lila's boyfriend, has some shady business dealings, but worse than that, he and Lila frequently have verbal and physical fights. In and among these upsetting situations, Sydney starts to understand the complications that come with being a woman in the world, including the contradictory messages women receive from a young age. She enjoys the attention she gets from Nicco, a sensitive, gentle guy she meets and falls for at the beach, but she hates the catcalls and harassment from men on the street. Life has thrown her a lot to process and figure out all at once. The summer that started with a prickly vague feeling of dread for Sydney ends with a violent death in the beautiful waterfront mansion. The reader follows along with Sydney as she looks back at the events of the summer and sees all the red flags she missed along the way.

Is it any good?

A teen's eyes are opened to the double standards and harassment faced by women in this thought-provoking coming-of-age thriller. In Girl, Unframed, author Deb Caletti delivers important messages, but the main character isn't all that interesting and the suspense angle falls flat. The structure of the book is very similar to that of Caletti's previous novel, A Heart in a Body in the World, with a teen narrator telling a traumatic story after the fact. But Girl, Unframed lacks the other book's sympathetic narrator and engaging secondary characters.

What this book does well is provide insight into what life can be like for kids with self-absorbed parents, and a large portion of the story is dedicated to showing how young women receive a constant stream of conflicting, critical messages about their looks and behavior. Relationship dynamics are explored, especially where domestic violence is concerned. Unfortunately, the pacing is slow and Sydney's repetitive inner thoughts bog down the narrative.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way girls and women are treated, especially the things Sydney experiences in Girl, Unframed. Why do you think people have so many conflicting opinions about the way girls and women should look, act, and dress? Do you think the constant comments and humiliations affect women in the long run?

  • Why do you think Sydney didn't tell anyone in her life what was going on at her mom's home, with the fights and the shady business dealings? Would you confide in someone? Or maybe try to get out and live somewhere else?

  • Do you like stories told in flashback, where you sort of know what happens at the end, but it's not clear how it happened? Does that kind of structure make the story more exciting for you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers and coming-of-age books

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