Thursday, October 2, 2014

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran
Published September 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
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 Bront√ęs—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?

My Thoughts:

Warning: If you are bothered by the "f" word, this is not the book for you. If you are bothered by wanton sex in a book, this is not the book for you. If the idea of a teenaged girl having sex with adult men, drinking and drugs, raunchy descriptions of sex bother you, this is not the book for you.

I like to think I'm pretty open-minded, that I understand things are sometimes in a book because that's the way life would be for these characters in these situations and the writer is just being honest. But, honestly, this was over the top for me.

I understand that Johanna is a girl raised in poverty in a tough part of England, a girl who has never fit in - overweight and oversmart. A certain amount of rough language and drinking is bound to be involved in her life. I'm just not sure Moran needed to be quite so graphic about it all. To be fair, the really raunchy part of the book isn't even that long (although there was a fair amount of sex talk and the "f" word throughout). Then, too, there is the fact (well, rumor has it that this is a fact) that the book is something of a roman a clef, so maybe Moran just felt like these things needed to be included in "her" story.

Caitlin Moran
When Johanna decides to reinvent herself, it's not necessarily to be the "bad" girl, the girl who will sleep with anyone and drinks herself into a stupor every night. But things get away from Johanna even as she thinks she has it all under control. She convinces herself that she is a good person for making other people happy even when she is doing things she doesn't enjoy or want to do. It's not a bad thing to think about - "women having their sexuality mediated through men's gaze."

Fortunately for Johanna, she is, as I mentioned, a very smart girl. Her wit, her encyclopedia memory of the mountains of books she's read, her references to pop culture all served to make me like her enough to suffer through Dolly and to hope she finds her way back. Plus, you have to cheer for a girl that wants to be a writer and who decides this is the way to pull her family out of poverty. And, who of us hasn't spent some angsty time as a teenager trying to figure out who we are and how we fit into the world. Also, a lot of the book is very, very funny. But I will definitely NOT be passing this one on to my mom.

For other thoughts about this book, check out the full TLC Book Tour.


  1. Lisa, I just couldn't get into this one at all. At first it reminded me of a British soap I used to watch (Eastenders), except for the profanity. I just felt like she was trying to include too much shock value type of experiences in her story that really weren't necessary. This was a DNF for me. I think its great you were able to get through it and find value in Dolly's aspirations to get her family out of poverty via her writing skills. And I agree that we all experience a period of trying to figure out who we are, but I think Moran takes it to this level on purpose and more for show than for actual character development.

  2. This one hasn't appealed to me. Mostly because of what you mentioned and I too, am pretty open minded. I have no problem with any of it if it's necessary to tell the story but if it isn't, then why include so much of it?

  3. This sounds like an interesting and unique book but I don't think it's for me. Thanks for sharing! Great review!

  4. I have been very curious about this one--and Caitlin Moran in general. Though I'm already TERRIFIED of raising teenaged daughters (I was a good girl but my sisters were not) and so I'm not sure that I can go there. I do know that I learned some things from my own parents about what to do and not do but each child is different. I'm grateful for your upfront assessment of this one--particularly the sex and language.

  5. I have a copy and am not a prude, but just not sure I'd like this -- too old I guess.

  6. I'm sure that many women would identify with those angsty teenage days, though not of course with everything that Johanna does (thankfully!).

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  7. Thank you for the warnings! They are a turn off, admittedly, but you also bring up some points about the book that make me wonder if I can get past what I don't like to actually get something out of this book.

  8. Is this a fictionalized biography of Moran? That sounds a lot like what she went through to get where she is from her other two books....

    It won't turn me off. I love her stuff and hope this one is as excellent as her previous two books. Thanks for the review!

  9. GREAT review! I'll link to it. You say everything I wasn't sure how to bring up. And yet I really liked this book. Maybe I was able to pretend or separate the 'truth' from my shock, or something. Not sure what this revelation says about me because I was shocked. She did drop in some astute pieces of wisdom, like you mention.