Today I’d like to show you a book that surprised me, because, judging the book by its cover, I thought this would be your usual coming-of-age fare. The novel is How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and I’d like to thank HarperCollins International for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis quoted from HarperCollins US¹:
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 Bröntes—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?
How to Build a Girl is set in England in the 1990s. To be more specific, our main character Johanna lives in Wolverhampton, about two hours north of London.
We accompany Johanna Morrigan through the worst of her teenage years. Johanna is a chubby girl who wants to change the way people see her. This is why she reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, a goth and music critic who has seen it all. While I can absolutely identify with Johanna, I’m having problems with Dolly. Sure, like Johanna, Dolly has traits that remind me of my teenage self (very spooky!), but sometimes I get the feeling that Dolly’s character is a bit over the top. I can’t think of any person I know who, as a teenager, behaved like Dolly – and I was in the goth and heavy metal scene myself for some time.
Overall, reading How to Build a Girl feels like traveling back in time. I got to relive my teenage years with a different perspective. The novel is fun and includes bite-sized historical background information for those who aren’t that familiar with the UK in the 1990s. How to Build a Girl is the perfect read for 20- and 30-somethings, as they can relate to the 1990s setting and connect with Johanna/Dolly.