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How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Published by Harper Perennial in 2015
Genre: Young Adult
How to Build a Girl is so. Damn. Good. Every single living person should read it.
It’s British, so it has the C word (gasp!) the exact right amount of times. (And not just as a noun.)
To Give You a Quick Description:
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 Brontes–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 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?
The Writing May Not Work for Younger YA Readers
I will say that while How to Build a Girl is classified as Young Adult, I think it probably sits better among older teenagers or adults, though Johanna is fourteen when we meet her. In America, where (let’s face it) the general vibe is anti-sex and very ready to say what teenagers should and shouldn’t be doing, this is an interesting one to consider YA. It’s probably another good time to mention the author is British, and they have considerably different attitudes toward sex and cursing.
ALL THAT HAVING BEEN SAID. The writing is just amazing. Spectacular. Laugh-out-loud hilarious.
The Characters are Brilliant
Johanna Morgan is all of us. And we get to watch her age. Watch her realize that her dad coming home plastered with a headless fox statue, wearing a robe that doesn’t cover his balls means he’s a drunk, not a pop star. Watch her awkward-as-hell masturbation stories turn to awkward-as-hell sex stories. And watch her realizing, as too few young girls do, that her heartbreaking, humiliating pursuit of happiness is as valid as everyone else’s.
The Girl Power Could Be Taken Either Way
Because we watch Johanna age, and because her lifestyle is eventually one of sex, partying, and rock and roll, many people would hate to have her as a role model for their daughters. Consider this excerpt, though:
“I feel excitingly . . . free. Things were going to happen to me last night that I did not like — and I stopped them. I have never prevented my own doom before. I have never stood in the path of certain unhappiness and told myself — lovingly, like a mother to myself — “No! This unhappiness will not suit you! Turn around and go the other way!”
This epiphany is one many (I’m only barely even hesitant to say ALL) girls could stand to hear. Johanna is many things that may not be desirable, but she’s also the master of her body and life.
I’d Recommend How to Build a Girl to Literally Everyone
like I said earlier. I especially think women ages 16+ could benefit from what Johanna has to say.
Here’s a link in case you’d like to get How to Build a Girl on Amazon!
*I only link up books I’d give 5 stars to, and believe in 100%*
What About You?
I’d love to hear from anyone on this: how do you feel when YA gets especially raunchy? How much do you think your cultural background affects this?
*Note: My reviews are full of opinions. I may love a book. May want to marry it like the kid in the commercial for Peanut Butter Crunch (1999 was a great year for cereal and commercials, look it up). I may say a book is the best thing to happen to me since I started shaving my big toe. None of these things mean it is objectively good. I recognize that. Many times throughout my life, I have given a book I swore to be a life-changer to a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/plumber. Shaking, quietly weeping, I’d hand it (and my heart) over. Only to find out several weeks later that for them the book was good, maybe even great, but not the life-giving, soul-renewing magic I’d purported. You may not like a book I recommend. Sue me.
**Please don’t sue me, I just write here.