REVIEW: How To Build A Girl - Caitlin Moran


“Ker-ching. We’ll be shitting fucking diamonds by Christmas.”

I read this book back in January and here I am... finally reviewing it! (Oops)

Caitlin Moran’s How To Build A Girl tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, whose alter ego is Dolly Wilde. Unlike most coming-of-age novels, How To Build A Girl isn’t the typical ‘teenager has trouble in school and learns a moral lesson’. No, it’s about a fourteen year old who completely reinvents herself time and time again over the course of three critical years of teenage-hood, trying to build a version of herself that she is satisfied with. She drops out of school early on in the story, before even gaining her GCSEs, so there’s your usual school-setting of this genre gone.

The three critical years of being a teenager, from the ages of fourteen to seventeen, are the point at which most people – especially girls – change hugely. If you go that long without seeing a relative or family friend you can expect more than a ‘Gosh you’ve grown’ when they see the new you. But no one ever seems to question what fuels this change in young people and what exactly happens, because let’s face it, you don’t wake up one morning spot-free with your life sorted out.

Johanna lives on a council estate in Wolverhampton with her mum, dad and four siblings (two of which are still unnamed). She struggles with the desire to help her family out financially and fears letting them down above all else. This sets up the story for Johanna’s multiple attempts to make money, explore new hobbies and discover the world. She takes trains across the UK, visiting places like London, Brighton and Birmingham in her quest of self-discovery. Writing for a national music magazine, Johanna reinvents herself for what she believes to be the final time. Everything is going to plan, she’s finally getting kissed and getting noticed. But, as everyone who has been fifteen knows, nothing is that simple.
Being a midlands girl myself, some of the places and slang rang home with me as Caitlin Moran truly captured the essence of the area. The background characters, especially those Johanna met at gigs, are completely and utterly believable, making the faces and voices of this story vivid. Moran wields this powers whilst treading a delicate line as she depicts the vulgarity of poverty and struggling families without being offensive.

Hilarious in parts and sincere in others, How To Build A Girl shows exactly what it’s like to be a teenager in the midlands, using a financially struggling family to show the harsher sides of reality. It can be quite explicit in parts, as Johanna becomes sexually active across the course of the story. Yet, the vulnerability of her character, which is exposed most profoundly during these sections, is eye-opening and raw. You’ll never find a protagonist this real anywhere else.

To get a copy you can head over here. Let me know what you think!

Love, Jess

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