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, 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 Brontës - 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 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.
©2014 Casa Bevron, Ltd. (P)2014 Random House UK
I loved this book.
"How to Build a Girl" has it all. The character development, the relationship development, and the pace of the story are perfectly done.
The main character Dolly/Johanna is beautifully developed. I was completely invested in her, in every decision she made, and in everything she did. I rooted for her and cringed and held my breath and laughed out loud a lot.
The surprising, and best part of this book is how much I laughed, the writing is clever and really funny. As Johanna/Dolly developed I thought that the story would get more serious, as most funny movies go, they aren't funny by the end because all the problems get ironed out. But Moran's writing was so good, it was consistently interesting and clever right up until the end.
The ending was great, really great, and worthy of the rest of the book and how the characters were developed.
The couple things I would say as a review:
1. I wished it was longer. A couple moments felt overly edited, I'd wanted more color, description, follow-up that weren't there.
2. This is a very Rated R book. I was never offended, but I certainly gasped and cringed more than once. This book is gritty and raw and naughty which is part of what makes it great.
The narrator was great, she seemed perfect for the part, her accents and voices were perfect.
I highly recommend this book.
I must say I was slightly disappointed when I heard that Caitlin (yes: pronounce it CAT-lin) Moran would not be reading her own work here, like she did with her die-hard bestseller "How to be a Woman". Then I turned that f***er ON. Who is that? WHO?! Familiar, innocent but still knowing, growly, can say ridiculous things without breaking? Oh MY Ghawd! It's Louise Brealey! The delightfully winsome Doctor Molly of Sherlock fame! She's brilliant and warm and perfect.
Ms. Moran, as much as I love her, is a the very definition of polemic. Perhaps whacked out on something sugary, a carton of smokes, and something dodgy that makes her speak and think at the rate of a zillion miles an hour, I often have to lie down in a dark room blissfully high on new thoughts and giggles when I hear her. Then I go back and have to do it all again. Ask me how many times I have listened to my Audible copy of How to be a Woman! At least a dozen.
This is just as good and Moran has graciously handed over the reigns of her fictional work to a wonderfully chosen performer who delivers marvelously. Well done. I can't wait for the other two-thirds of the trilogy. Write on and godspeed, Ms. Moran.
Oi! Audible! How about adding Moranthology to the catalog? Why not?
This book is a slow burn- I didn't love it at first but the character grew on me in a big way. I was a bit devastated when it ended- I wanted more! Amazing reader, too.
The humor and compassion with which the entire story was conveyed made it always approachable, and easy to return to. And speaking as a woman who was a young teen in the 90s, the portrait of the time (even though it is in England) and place (lower middle class with a worthless but somehow not useless father) was hopeful and though simpler, on the cusp of great change was perfectly crystalized and presented. Reading this was to be transported back to look at a younger self, and realizing that though that younger self is an absurd creature, she is also splendid.
How To Be A Woman. This book expands on the Caitlen Moran character in HTBaW without being a simple retelling of Moran's life...it imagines a slightly more breathless approach, one in keeping with a teenage narrator.
The nuance of spoken British slang.
Buy this for the young (college-aged) women in your life. It'll help them realize that you need not be perfect to achieve dreams. In fact, flaws can be memorable.
I loved the self discovery of the character. She un-apologetically explored her sexuality. I really connected with Johanna and became jealous of how a young woman was able to make a career as a writer so young.
Obviously Johanna. Her father was also a great character, mainly because of how talented the narration was.
Her in the bathtub for an entire party. Her ability to be the cool-girl in the bath tub was delightful and inspiring. She owned the bad situation and made it amazing.
The climax. A girl finally maturing and learning from her mistakes.
This should be made into a mini-series or something! I would love to see a live action version of this book!
Funny British Teenager
Johanna was a hoot. She made me root for her.
Louise Brealey is the reason I bought the book. Her performance on the The Girl On The Train was great. She gave these characters such life.
Johanna. She could probably use a good role model...
Louise Brealey could read the phone book and make it interesting.
I did not feel compelled by this book until one long passage
towards the end about cynicism , which basically made all the hours of listening worthwhile. Very much so. Here is an excerpt;
" …it is a million times easier to be cynical and wield a sword, then it is to be open-hearted and stand there, holding a balloon and a birthday cake, with the infinite potential to look foolish… . I haven’t yet learned the simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable. So just be kind. "
To the right friend, yes. I don't think this book is for everyone but I really did enjoy the story.
It might have been Kenny (her boss). He just seemed like he didn't give her what she wanted to hear but what she needed to hear.
She did the Irish, English and Scottish accents very well. It really made the story come to life.
It had a few moments where it made me think "Come on Johana. You're better than that" or "poor girl has zero self esteem" and "Ha! I have no idea what kind of food they are talking about but it sounds vile."
If you're in the mood for a teenager reinventing herself and going about it in the London music scene....this is your book.
Say something about yourself!
The story and narration equally amazing, entertaining, and so very human.
What did you think when you found out about the family keeling that information from her?! I know the story wouldn't be what it was without them doing so. The more I think about it the more it messes with my head. This whole time Johanna feels so uncomfortable at home that she feels the need to creat another persona. All the while her family made it possible.
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