Some readers will consider Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti a cautionary tale. Others will describe it as a coming-of-age tale. In my mind, Girl, Unframed is both types of stories. Sydney’s experiences are a large part of being a teen girl, but her situation grows out of control specifically because she does not have the life experience to recognize any danger in that situation.
I finished Girl, Unframed a few weeks ago, but a recent event with my sixteen-year-old daughter reminded me of why books like this are so important for teen girls. Jim and Holly recently visited a car dealership, looking to test drive a vehicle his nephew wanted to buy. While there, the salesman helping him admitted that he had assumed Jim and Holly were a couple. She had on no makeup and was wearing nothing that would make her look older than her 15/16 years. Still, both this situation, as well as Sydney’s in the book, are stark reminders that many men consider anything with boobs accessible, something too many teen girls don’t understand until it is too late.
What makes Girl, Unframed so powerful is that I remember exactly what it felt like to be sixteen and to understand that your looks are enough to turn heads. While you may consciously target that ability to boys of your own age, you take secret pride in having a similar influence over older men (and by older I mean early 20s). It is a heady feeling, strong enough to clearly remember thirty years later.
Ms. Caletti is careful to make it clear that Sydney does nothing wrong. Her actions do have consequences, but what happens to her are not those consequences. Wearing a bikini in the privacy of her backyard or on the beach, experimenting with sex with a boy of her own age, wearing clothes that make her feel good about herself while accentuating her curves – none of this excuses how the men around her act. Herein lies the lesson within the story. Society ALWAYS blames the girl simply for being herself, and that is wrong.
Sydney eventually realizes the mixed messaging given to teen girls. Dress to impress but not too provocatively. Desire the attention of the male species, but don’t get upset when you get that attention, no matter in what form it comes. Desire, but don’t desire too much. In Girl, Unframed, Ms. Caletti not only highlights this minefield of expectations, but she also illustrates her point through Sydney’s confusion as well as the danger in which she finds herself. Thus, Girl, Unframed becomes an important weapon in educating our girls of the dangers they face simply by being themselves thanks to a patriarchal society that glorifies in objectifying young women.
Ms. Caletti excels at explaining what it is to be a teen girl without pandering or demeaning her target audience. She does so in a way that is authentic and evocative so that even middle-aged readers will remember that feeling of invincibility that only the young feel. She also provides her readers with insight into situations they are not yet capable of handling with the necessary maturity, of which Sydney’s situation is a perfect example.