What do you do in your teenage years when you realise 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 Brontes - 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 realises 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, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.
When I saw the reference to Adrian Mole on the back cover of this novel it piqued my interest. I loved Adrian Mole as a teenager but obviously that was from a boys perspective so I was intrigued to see what Caitlin Moran had to offer.
This is quite frankly a very skilfully and brilliantly well written book that had me engrossed right from the first page. Written in the first person it is told in the past tense so unless the main character Johanna is speaking from beyond the grave I felt fairly reassured whilst reading the novel that her life had turned out okay. For some reason that made reading this just seem a whole lot more comforting. This book really made me laugh. Any book that starts right from page one with the main character masturbating has got to be able to have that as an integral part of the story without disgusting the reader and indeed this is achieved.
Immediately the main characters begin to be introduced and obviously we have a rather intimate detail about Johanna. I loved how the story progressed and the raw honesty of Johanna's telling of her story. This could be any teenage girls diary and that made this story even more enjoyable because even the bits that make you cringe are still told with such honesty and humour that the description of sexual acts etc are actually an essential part of the telling of the story. I loved Dolly (Johanna's ) naivety and also that she was just a normal girl from a poor family who managed, despite all her dramas, to do good. Dolly's relationship with John was just beautiful and I loved how that developed leaving me just a little bit guessing at the end.
The naivety she had over her brother Krissi also was so well written. I won't ruin the story but this is a brilliant story line.
This was a fantastic book and I enjoyed every minute of reading it. Caitlin Moran is a gifted writer and I look forward to reading more of her writing in the future. I can definitely recommend this if you have pre teen or teens in the house and need a reminder of what it was like to grow up and find out who you really are.
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