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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, 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

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  • Marci
  • portland, OR, United States
  • 10-06-14

Get This Book!

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.

26 of 29 people found this review helpful

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One great quote made it worthwhile

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. "



7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Terrifically funny, brilliant pro-girl memoir

The most terrifically funny, unabashedly uninhibited, brilliantly pro-girl book of any kind that I have ever read. Caitlin Moran, whose equally hysterical How to Be a Woman I read last year, tells a no-holds-barred tale of her late teen years, when she quits school and breaks away from her poor, large family. Like everyone who was ever a teenager, she has moments of excruciating embarrassment, barely controlled hormones propelling her to seek intimacy with every boy she meets, and dreams of building a future for herself.

The story barrels manically, one suspects not unlike its creator, from one crazy situation to the next, as the young protagonist determinedly pushes her way into adulthood. We experience her first true love, beautifully—and humorously—described as if she had walked right into one of her favorite novels:

“I have discovered something amazing: some people aren't just people, but a place - a whole world. Sometimes you find someone you could live in for the rest of your life. John Kite is like Narnia to me - I've pushed through his fur coat and into a land where I am Princess Duchess, High Chatter of Cair Paravel. In John Kite, people walk down the street holding pigs, and we walk onstage holding hands into the bright light, and I fly over tiny maps to great theories, and I sleep in the bathtub, still talking. I wish to be a citizen of John Kite forever - I want to move there immediately. I know he is the most amazing person in the world. Things happen with John Kite.”

The book is not for the easily offended. There is a lot of very explicitly described drug use and sex, but it is all very much in service to the greater narrative of a girl trying to figure out who she is and what life is all about. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book (and it has the added bonus of being a G-rated quote), not only does it speak a great truth about sex, but it also showcases Moran’s special brand of humor as she compares sex to an attention-seeking stunt she used as a child in a very large household.

“Here’s the amazing thing about sex: you get a whole person to yourself, for the first time since you were a baby. Someone who is looking at you—just you—and thinking about you, and wanting you, and you haven’t even had to lie at the bottom of the stairs and pretend you’re dead to get them to do it.”

But the very best thing about this book is how pro-girl it is. As we watch the young protagonist stumble her way forward, we are rewarded by glimpses of astonishing clarity about what it takes to be a woman in what is essentially a man’s world that come to her, as here:

“All my life, I’ve thought that if I couldn’t say anything boys found interesting, I might as well shut up. But now I realize there was that whole other, invisible half of the world—girls—that I could speak to instead. A whole other half equally silent and frustrated, just waiting to be given the smallest starting signal—the tiniest starter culture—and they would explode into words, and song, and action, and relieved, euphoric cries of ‘Me too! I feel this too!’ “

There is a part of me that wishes every 15-year-old girl could read this book. But its mixed messages (Don’t be afraid to become your own person! Drop out of school! Be kind to others! Have lots of unprotected sex with near-strangers! It’s okay for women to want to have orgasms! Try whatever drugs you can find!) make that unlikely. Still, her life’s journey is one that many, many girls are living anyway. I think they would appreciate this full-on, no-hold-barred account of how one girl went about building her own life, her own way.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent performance and great book

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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When you see yourself in print, and its okay

What made the experience of listening to How to Build a Girl the most enjoyable?

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.

What other book might you compare How to Build a Girl to and why?

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.

What does Louise Brealey bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The nuance of spoken British slang.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes.

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant!!

This is a brilliant, very well told story! I was a little apprehensive (Being a Big fan of the other books) about the voice work being done by someone else... but it is so beautifully written, and told, that I felt as if I personally knew the characters individually. Spectacular read! Loved it!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wasn't expecting to like it, but I loved it

I read this for a book club and by the description thought it would be depressing and that I wouldn't relate with the characters. Instead I found it funny, inspiring and a brilliant riot of words. I really loved it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Todd
  • Omaha, NE
  • 03-20-16

Required reading (or listening)

I loved this. Very relatable but also hit that secret fantasy sweet spot. I laughed, I cried, I wrote frantic notes to consume everything else Caitlin Moran has been involved in.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant

By turns melancholy, achingly sad, ribald, pornographic and hilarious, How to Build a Girl is magic.

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Thoughtful and entertaining

Entertainment book. Loved the narrator and her accent. the author does an excellent job of describing feelings, emotions, and events.