25 September 2014
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
What do you do in your teenage years when you realize 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, fourteen, 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 Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.
By sixteen, 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 realizes 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. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.
In deciding to read How to Build a Girl for review, I gave myself a fatal flaw: I read the novel immediately after reading Moran's memoir How to Be a Woman. I couldn't resist: the memoir was $1.99 on Nook and I love Caitlin Moran on Twitter. She's such a funny, badass, cool lady.
Unfortunately for her fictional alter-ego, Johanna on the page does not measure up to Caitlin on the page. How to Be a Woman feels soul-bearing, eviscerating at times in its honesty. How to Build a Girl has so much perfectly autobiographical detail that it felt like I was reading draft #2 of her memoir rather than a new novel. Moran has a great writing style and she gives Johanna a fabulous voice but when read so close together real-life wins out over fiction. She does throw in a great bit on cynicism near the end of the novel, though.
I'd say go for How to Build a Girl if you haven't read Moran's memoir very recently - I loved it. But if you have read How to Be a Woman recently then I'd give it a few months or so before trying out her novel.
(Related: I honestly didn't realise there were hippies in England. I thought that was a US thing and were called something else in the UK)
Dear FTC: I purchased a copy of How to Be a Woman on my nook and was given access to a digital review copy of How to Build a Girl from the publisher via Edelweiss.