It’s summer, and Sydney Reilly is on the verge of turning 16. She’s also certain that she’s on the verge of some indefinable “IT,” something big that will help her cross the mysterious bridge from girlhood to womanhood. As she says, “I didn’t know what IT was exactly, just something large, something that would change everything.” But Sydney isn’t sure how she’s going to find or experience “IT,” now that she’s being forced to spend her summer away from all her friends in Seattle.
Instead, she has to spend the summer with her mother, the once-famous movie star, Lila Shore, at her sumptuous mansion in San Francisco’s exclusive Sea Cliff neighborhood. Sydney is exhausted by Lila’s drama-laden life and over-the-top lifestyle; she’s especially irked when she meets creepy Jake, the latest in Lila’s seemingly endless string of beaus.
But Sydney falls in love with San Francisco, and if there’s one thing to be said for Lila’s mercurial brand of motherhood, it’s that Sydney has a lot of freedom to explore the city on her own—which is how she meets Nicco and begins a relationship that will unexpectedly change all of their lives forever.
In some ways, Girl, Unframed reads like a true crime novel, with excerpts from an a criminal trial evidence list that open each chapter. Sydney’s first-person narration also seems to suggest that the book itself is her testimony about the lead-up to a terrible crime. There is, in fact, a crime (actually more than one) at the novel’s center, but the most interesting elements of Sydney’s story are more cerebral and emotional.
Sydney’s experiences in San Francisco—with Jake, with the builder next door to the mansion, with her best friend from back home, even with the elderly frequenters of the nearby nude beach—help her construct a new and sometimes disturbing sense of what it means to be a woman in the world: It often means being looked at but not seen. This introspective novel offers a perceptive examination of a young woman’s journey, not to the life-changing “IT” she imagined, but to a hard-won understanding of the persistant contradictions that still govern how women are perceived, particularly when it feels like the eyes of the world are upon them.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Girl, Unframed author Deb Caletti explains the true crime that inspired her new book—and introduces the real-life role models for the dog who plays a critical role in Sydney’s story.