I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti
Also by this author: A Heart in a Body in the World, One Great Lie
Published by Simon Pulse on June 23, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 368 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
A teen girl’s summer with her mother turns sinister in this thriller about the dangers of unwanted attention.
Sydney Reilly has a bad feeling about going home to San Francisco before she even gets on the plane. How could she not? Her mother is Lila Shore—the Lila Shore—a film star who prizes her beauty and male attention above all else…certainly above her daughter.
But Sydney’s worries multiply when she discovers that Lila is involved with the dangerous Jake, an art dealer with shady connections. Jake loves all beautiful objects, and Syndey can feel his eyes on her whenever he’s around. And he’s not the only one. Sydney is starting to attract attention—good and bad—wherever she goes: from sweet, handsome Nicco Ricci, from the unsettling construction worker next door, and even from Lila. Behaviors that once seemed like misunderstandings begin to feel like threats as the summer grows longer and hotter.
It’s unnerving, how beauty is complicated, and objects have histories, and you can be looked at without ever being seen. But real danger, crimes of passion, the kind of stuff where someone gets killed—it only mostly happens in the movies, Sydney is sure. Until the night something life-changing happens on the stairs that lead to the beach. A thrilling night that goes suddenly very wrong. When loyalties are called into question. And when Sydney learns a terrible truth: beautiful objects can break.
It’s no secret that I absolutely ADORED A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti and it will forever be one of my favorite contemporary novels, so when I heard Deb Caletti was going to be writing a thriller set in San Francisco I clicked that NetGalley request button SO fast. Girl, Unframed proved to be a dark, unsettling story about the burdens of beauty, whether it be regarding artwork or a real, living girl who’s appearance is commodified, scrutinized, and weaponized at every turn.
Protagonist Avery is the daughter of a stunning movie star who’s clinging to relevancy after being an icon of decades past. Sent to spend the summer in San Francisco with her mother (she’s usually away at boarding school), the story proved to be an unsettling coming of age tale as Sydney must recon with the ugly truths around her developing and changing mind and body. Away from the safety of her school and friends, she’s in a situation where she’s seen as an object that others- from her mom’s sketchy boyfriend to even a random construction worker in the neighborhood- feel entitled to comment on and have an opinion about, when Sydney doesn’t even know how to feel about her body herself. It’s a message that perhaps felt a little heavy handed at times but is overall extremely relevant and unfortunately pervasive. Sydney’s agency and sexuality are defined over and over again by the adults in her life much more often than through her own decisions and actions, and yet any harnessing of her own body’s agency are instantly slapped with labels such as “dirty” or “out of control.” Caletti did a great job balancing Sydney’s inner narrative of anger toward these double standards and determination to be the keeper of her body with the unwanted yet unstoppable shame and disgust she feels when inappropriate judgement is passed on her appearance and actions, even from fellow females (such as her mother).
The setting of this story was so well done, and while it was never scary or overtly dangerous, there was a constant current of unease that was woven through the novel, especially in the large, old cliff side manor that Sydney finds herself spending the summer in, eerie both when she’s alone or when it’s full of the hushed fighting and stretched tension of her mother and boyfriend’s tumultuous relationship. The book takes place in San Francisco but shows a different side of the city than many media does, focusing less on the tourist attractions and more on the historic elements that are a throwback to the glamorous and dangerous past of the city, from the Sutro Baths to the Presidio to the City Lights Bookstore. I’ve been to San Francisco more times than I can count yet I still found that this book surprised me with little nuggets of history and hidden places.
Overall: I went into Girl, Unframed expecting a thriller about the dark world of stolen art dealing, but that really took a backseat to the coming of age story of Sydney, trying to navigate a world that lays claim to her body and identity before she’s even sure of who she is yet. Sydney’s sense of self develops over the summer while the drama in her home escalates, and the end of the summer ended with a plot twist I didn’t see coming. I highly recommend Girl, Unframed for anyone who’s looking for a darker, yet achingly raw and realistic coming of age tale of a young woman in the modern age.
*A huge thank you to Simon Pulse and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!*