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“Sometimes eating cookies with a best friend in the middle of the night is better than talking,” Molly –Dress Coded
by Carrie Firestone
Good for Reluctant Readers, LGBTQ
Molly wasn’t planning on starting a rebellion. But when she sees a teacher yelling at Olivia for wearing a tank top, Molly takes action. She wants others to know that the middle school dress code unfairly targets girls who have mature bodies. In order to tell their stories, Molly starts a podcast.
The podcast explains how Liza got dress coded and Molly didn’t, even though they were wearing the exact same outfit. Other girls were dress coded because their shorts were too short, their shirts showed a sliver of their stomach, or their clothing didn’t cover their shoulders. It isn’t fair.
Middle school is hard enough without having teachers trolling the halls looking for dress code violations. Soon, Molly’s podcast creates a small rebellion that swells into a revolution. The girls are standing up for what is right, but will teachers and parents listen?
Dress Coded’s topic and teen-friendly format will appeal to a wide audience. The short chapters are broken into letters, lists, Molly’s dress code podcast, and definitions. The story doesn’t shy away from the humiliation and bullying that can happen because of a dress code. Molly tackles the dress code by going through the proper steps: getting students to sign a petition, sending the petition to the superintendent, and trying to get the petition placed put on the school board’s agenda. It is only after all of these attempts fail that Molly pleads for other students to camp outside of the school in protest.
While Molly is fighting to change the dress code, she is also dealing with a family in crisis. Her brother is addicted to vaping, which has her parents concerned. Although the story describes some of the harmful effects of vaping, too much emphasis is put on how many teens vape and where they get the vaping pods. Instead of feeling like a natural part of the story, the descriptions of vaping middle schoolers becomes tiresome.
Dress Coded does an excellent job of explaining the harmful effects of vaping. However, the story doesn’t address the topic of bullying, even though one of the recurring characters has a mean name for everyone. The story also throws in a trans student getting into trouble for wearing lipstick, a short conversation about the possibility of Molly being bisexual, and a girl who is crushing on another girl. These scenes do nothing to advance the plot and were not used as a teaching moment for respecting others.
While Dresses Coded isn’t amazing literature, the story has a high-interest topic and a story that middle school readers will enjoy. Molly is a likable character who shows the importance of perseverance. The story’s message is clear: girls’ bodies are not something to be ashamed of and they are not a distraction to boys. Parents and teachers could use Dresses Coded as a conversation starter about many topics, including: bullying, vaping, protesting, and respecting others.
- When talking about going to the prom, Molly tells her mother, “It’s not like when you went to the prom. Nobody cares. I may go with a boy, or a girl, or a group.” Molly’s mom asks her, “Are you bisexual, Molly? Because that’s totally and completely fine.”
- One of Molly’s friends has a crush on another girl.
- During a sleepover, Molly’s friend “said she could see herself dating a girl, but nobody specifically.”
- When a boy was about to pull a chair out from under Molly, Olivia “punched him.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Molly’s brother, Danny, is addicted to vaping. Molly’s parents were “searching Danny’s room and backpack, hiding their cash so Danny can’t take it to buy pods, and calling doctors to ask how long it will be before Danny gets popcorn lung and dies.”
- Danny sells vaping pods to middle schoolers.
- Danny “was suspended for the third time. His teacher caught him vaping during history.” After that, Molly lets her brother hide his vaping supplies in her closet.
- Some of the girls on Molly’s lacrosse team vape. Other kids vape in the school bathroom.
- When Molly’s parents take away all of Danny’s vaping supplies, he searches for any that his parents missed. Molly witnessed “my brother crawl out of the closet with a vape pod, puncture it with a nail file, and start sucking on it. This is what he’s become, now that Mom has all of his devices.”
- Some of the middle schoolers “are plotting how to smuggle their vape pods. They ask if any of the girls would like to hide pods in their bras.”
- Molly often refers to her classmates hiding so they can vape. For example, at a party, “a bunch of people were vaping in the lawn-mower shed.”
- Molly thinks about her grandpa who “died from drinking too much.”
- Danny calls Molly, “Frog.” He calls Molly’s friend, “Toad.”
- Molly’s classmate, Nick, calls the girls in his class names based on their looks and race. For example, “Nick called Bea ‘Pencil Legs.’” Other names include, “Rice and Beans,” “Jew Fro,” and “a hairy beast man.”
- When Olivia gets her period, blood seeps through her pants. After this, Nick calls her “Tampon Fail.” Later, he admits that he doesn’t know what “Tampon Fail” even means.
- During class, a teacher “mentioned this mountain in Switzerland called Mount Titlis.” After that, Nick begins calling Molly, “Swiss Alps.”
- Molly thinks about fourth grade, when “everybody called me Snot Drop.”
- After Danny’s parents find his vaping supplies, he calls Molly a “gross, ugly narc.”
- A boy in Molly’s class “spit on Julissa and called her the n-word.”
- When the parents have a meeting to discuss a camping trip, Molly prays “that my parents don’t get roped into” being chaperones.