A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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 points around family dynamics, the expectations placed on young women, and what to do in situations of domestic violence.
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?
- Author: Deb Caletti
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon Pulse
- Publication date: June 23, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 24, 2020
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