Carrie Lenarcic Firestone ’92 recently announced the debut of her third book for young readers, the middle-grade novel Dress Coded, after signing a book deal with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, under the umbrella of Penguin Books USA. The release is planned for publication in summer 2020.
The book tells the story of an eighth grader who starts a podcast to protest the unfair dress code enforcement at her middle school and sparks rebellion, while also dealing with changing friendships and her older brother’s vaping addiction.
For her first two young adult novels The Loose Ends List and The Unliklies, Firestone drew inspiration from her own high school and college journals. The books tackled issues such as young love, friendship, striving to make a difference, dealing with grief and the power of forgiveness. For Dress Coded, Firestone took inspiration from the issues and experiences her own children, aged 12 and 15, are facing.
“Dress coding is a huge problem in middle schools across the country,” says Firestone. “It’s not necessarily the dress code itself, but the uneven enforcement of the dress code that deeply impacts school culture. At the same time, vaping has hit the middle school crowd hard. … I wanted to find an approachable way to address these real-life issues facing American kids without being heavy-handed. Molly, the protagonist in Dress Coded, is a regular kid who finds proactive ways to deal with the problems many teens her age face.”
Firestone also takes the issues she tackles in her books and encourages her readers to do something about them. Following the release of The Unlikelies, she launched The Unlikelies Challenge – $1,000 for Good. In The Unlikelies, the main character and her friends discovered it’s not as easy as it looks to “do something noble.” The initiative challenged readers to pitch how they would use creativity, passion, purpose and $1,000 to change the world. A committee of judges, including Senior Associate Director of Annual Giving Ruth Benedict, chose five teens who pitched proposals to receive the seed money to “do something noble.”
Firestone is now considering possibilities related to her newest book. “Since the official Dress Coded announcement, people have reached out and I’m looking at ways I can partner with teens already fighting unfair dress coding in their schools,” says Firestone, who is working with parent groups and elected officials in Connecticut to pass anti-vaping laws.
An editor for the Herald, Firestone graduated from William Smith with a degree in anthropology and English. She went on to earn her master’s in teaching from Columbia University and taught high school in New York City before pursuing her career as an author.
“HWS helped me prepare for this career in so many ways,” says Firestone, thanking Professor Emeritus of English Peter Cummings P’92, faculty members Mary Caponegro and Stephen Kuusisto ’78, as well as Professor Emerita of English Claudette Columbus who “gave me big fat C’s and covered my papers with red marks.
“I wasn’t thrilled at the time, but Professor Columbus was probably the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer. As an anthropology major, my social sciences professors taught me to see the world through an anthropologist’s lens. I still wear that lens when I’m combing the human landscape for characters,” she says.