Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Dress Coded"

Carrie Firestone is the author of the acclaimed young adult novels The Loose Ends List, which Kirkus Reviews called “a poignant and important story about compassion, love, and the decision to live life on your own terms” in a starred review, and The Unlikelies, which Bustle declared “the summer read that’ll remind you how much good there really is in the world.” A former New York City high school teacher, Firestone currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, their two daughters, and their pets.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dress Coded, her debut middle-grade novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"I understand all too clearly that Ashley is rich and I am not and I am going to need to find a dress for seventy-five dollars (one that goes with the shoes I've worn to every bar and bat mitzvah for the past two years).

We're walking toward the exit, and something bounces off my head and lands on the floor in front of me. I reach up and cover my face just as I'm hit again in the shoulder.

Ashley runs ahead and yells at the balcony above, "Nick, knock it off." She's sort of laughing. Nick is throwing pretzel bites at me, and Ashley thinks it's funny.

I feel myself turning red inside.

I dart into Pink and wait for Ashley to find me. I'm in no mood to deal with Nick and his friends. They probably wander around the mall every day staring at Snap Map until they find familiar faces to pelt with pretzel bites.

I look both ways and drag Ashley to Auntie Anne's, because now I want pretzels. I spend seven dollars on a pretzel with dipping sauce and a lemonade. That leaves sixty-eight dollars for my white dress. We sit on the edge of the fountain and eat while Ashley posts pictures of herself.

It's true that I"m pretty sweaty. But I don't feel like looking for dresses because lurking Nick and being not rich are deal breakers for me."
Whoa. "The Page 69 Test" is spot on for Dress Coded. It gives readers a good sense of protagonist Molly's voice and the setting of the novel, which is middle-school suburbia. This page is a turning point moment for Molly. While she's probably gone to the mall with her friend Ashley many times, she begins to notice that she and her friend are different in a number of ways. Ashley is able to blow money on whatever she wants, while Molly's family is struggling financially. Ashley indulges and even flirts with Nick, the alpha bully of the eighth grade, while Molly has no stomach for Nick's rude behavior or Ashley's tolerance of him. This moment of disgust and impatience is pivotal in helping Molly discover that as her voice grows louder, her relationships are beginning to change.

In my middle grade novel Dress Coded, Molly Frost witnesses her classmate Olivia being dress coded by their principal and a male teacher in the garden outside their school. The incident causes the principal to cancel the school camping trip, which had been promised if "nobody violates the dress code," prompting the eighth grade class to turn against Olivia. Outraged by the traumatic incident and determined to defend her friend, Molly begins a podcast aimed at shedding light on the unfair dress coding policy at Fisher Middle School. What follows are a series of student protests, led by Molly and her friends, that force their suburban community to take a hard look at how the school dress code reinforces sexist, racist, and classist power struggles in their district and beyond.
Visit Carrie Firestone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue