22 February, 2022

[Review] Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Cover image from the TheStoryGraph Site.

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Release Date: 7 July, 2020
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons - an imprint of Random House
Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Children's/Contemporary
ISBN: 9781984816436
Edition: Hardback (also available in Paperback, Audiobook, and eBook)
Review Written: 9 February, 2022
Content Warnings: B
ody shaming, Bullying, Drug abuse (Vaping), Addiction, Drug abuse, Misogyny, Body shaming, Bullying, Racism, Sexism, Ableism, Transphobia
In this debut middle-grade girl-power friendship story, an eighth grader starts a podcast to protest the unfair dress code enforcement at her middle school and sparks a rebellion.

Molly Frost is FED UP...

Because Olivia was yelled at for wearing a tank top.

Because Liza got dress coded and Molly didn't, even though they were wearing the exact same outfit.
Because when Jessica was pulled over by the principal and missed a math quiz, her teacher gave her an F.

Because it's impossible to find shorts that are longer than her fingertips.

Because girls' bodies are not a distraction.

Because middle school is hard enough.

And so Molly starts a podcast where girls can tell their stories, and before long, her small rebellion swells into a revolution. Because now the girls are standing up for what's right, and they're not backing down.

See more by Carrie Firestone on her twitter.
All of us have had experiences with dress codes, whether in school or in our professional jobs. They're not fun, and sometimes they go a little too far. Molly Frost is done with her middle school's dress code. She feels that it's unfairly enforced against girls after her first day of 7th grade when her best friend Liza gets "coded" for her outfit when the pair are matching.

The book starts towards the end of Molly's 8th grade year, when the 8th grade camping trip has been cancelled because a student was "coded". Furious, Molly wants to set the record straight. The violation was unintentional, and the practice is causing a lot of body issues within the female population of the school. Determined to make a difference, Molly starts a podcast called "Dress Coded" to clear the air. Olivia got a dress code violation for a spaghetti strap top when she was trying to get a new pair of pants due to a period mishap.

What Molly didn't anticipate was that her podcast was going to blow up. Soon she's got more stories than she knows what to do with, a hashtag that's full of the "violations" and a passion to change the dress code. Behind the scenes, Molly's family is struggling with her brother's vaping addiction, and his selling vaping supplies to middle schoolers. The dynamic of Molly's family slowly shifts over the course of the book from her parents being mostly inattentive to them actively participating in her movement.

I loved this novel because it is relatable to middle school. Dress codes are often unfairly strict against female students, citing that boys can't concentrate when there's skin showing. Each story was believable as to why they were dress coded. Some were given violations for showing too much skin (spaghetti straps), some were coded due to bra straps showing, some were simply coded for being more developed than their peers. One girl was given detention and coded for talking back when a boy kept touching her hair and her teacher blamed her. All of these scenarios are far too familiar to anyone who's worked in a school or been a middle school/high school girl themselves.

Ms. Firestone does a good job at balancing the story between Molly's dress code struggle and the struggle within her family over her brother's addiction. Smoking addictions are sadly common, and so are vaping concerns. At one point, Molly takes the wrap for vaping supplies in her closet (hidden by her brother Danny) in hopes of keeping her family from moving away to give her brother a new start. Eventually though, she comes clean and Danny starts to get treatment for his addiction.

All told, this novel has several prominent messages that are crucial for middle schoolers to hear. You matter. You are beautiful. You are not a distraction. Your voice is heard. I highly recommend those with middle schoolers to read this novel and see where a discussion of it's topics lead. This novel has been selected for the South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominees for the school year of 2022-2023.

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