How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Digital Audiobook narrated by Louise Brealey
Published by Harper on September 23rd 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Feminism, Fiction, Humor, Young Adult
Length: 352 pages Source: Overdrive
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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.
“Explaining why you love something is one of the most important jobs on earth.”
Now because of this book I take an immense extra pleasure in discussing a good novel. A good book wraps you up in a warm, cozy blanket and gives you magnificent hot cocoa and homemade chocolate cookies and says in that soft, familiar voice: “I love you.”
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran punches you in the face with a dildo and makes you listen to The Cure on repeat until either your brain explodes or you are in love. It is not subtle. It is not sweet. It is amazing. I have never read a book that makes me laugh in the morning and want to join the protagonist in a broken, messy cry at night.
Johanna Morrigan has absolutely no idea who she is, therefore, she will make herself. She makes Dolly Wilde, named for Oscar Wilde’s niece. Dolly is trouble. Dolly is unpredictable. Dolly is a Lady Sex Adventurer. Dolly has a continuous inner monologue during her “sex adventuring” that is most reassuring and congratulatory (“how lucky he must be!”) because she must be happy, because she is doing The Right Things… right? Johanna is most refreshing because she is funny and hopefully optimistic and she is finding her way.
I wish I met Johanna when I was 16. We both come from families who survived solely because of government benefits. We both sought escape in writing. We both grew up with our parents’ music and hopelessly rebelled. We both have good relationships with our siblings. To be a bit frank, we also both believed that Cosmo had all the answers to “How to please your man!” and that the favor would never be returned.
This coming-of-age story is so raw, daring to discuss things like female masturbation and the difficulty of being a woman in the workplace (even in the 90s). I felt, at the very end of this story, that things were just beginning. Imagine my thrill when I learned the sequel is due later this year!
I wholeheartedly recommend How to Build a Girl. Prepare yourself for something rough and untraditional, but honest. And the audiobook? Brilliance.