Book Review: How To Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran

Publisher: Ebury Press

Publication Date: July 3, 2014

Origins:  From Publisher for Review

Synopsis: What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes - and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde – fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! She will save her poverty stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer – like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes - but without the dying young bit.

By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less. 

But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.

Review: HOW TO BUILD A GIRL gives us Johanna Morrigan, a 14 year old girl who doesn’t fit in her family and doesn’t fit in her skin. After a particularly embarrassing moment in the spotlight, she decides she doesn’t want to be Johanna Morrigan anymore. She reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, music reviewer and Lady Sex Adventurer. She is determined to fix her family’s money troubles with her writing. By 16, she’s drinking, smoking, having sex, and working for a music paper giving nasty reviews to so many bands they all fear her sharp tongue now. Yet somehow being Dolly is not enough to make Johanna happy, but she doesn’t know what is missing from the way she’s built herself. HOW TO BUILD A GIRL is a coming of age novel set in the early ‘90s featuring Johanna Morrigan, an overweight bookworm who is socially awkward, with 4 brothers and her family on the dole. HOW TO BUILD A GIRL is funny, irreverent, raunchy, and heart-breaking. While all of us have to decide who we’ll be as we grow up, adding and discarding traits, the author points out how much more difficult it is for girls to explore their secret desires and fears. An outrageous feminist manifesto with sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, HOW TO BUILD A GIRL will speak to something primal inside all readers.

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