Jim's Books

How to Build a Girl

Caitlin Moran

How to Build a Girl
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ISBN: 9780091949006


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 any more 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.

Reviewed on 10th August 2014

Over the past few years I've seen a lot of references to Caitlin Moran on the social media feeds of some friends, and when I saw she had a novel out I was intrigued. Would this be a feminist manifesto that would improve my understanding of how my friends see the world? Well no - it's not a manifesto, but it's certainly an interesting look at the life of a teenage girl that does nothing to gloss over reality.

The narrative is reminiscent of Adrian Mole in many ways - although not a diary, the narrative is presented in the first person and presents an unfiltered view of a naive teenager, and the dynamic of the family around her. It feels honest, authentic, and although in some places uncomfortably graphic it doesn't seem like it is setting out to shock. There is one image in particular though that I worry will stay with me for some time.

I'll admit that I found the first few chapters quite hard-going, and had to really force myself to focus to get through them - I'm not really sure why, and it may have been my misplaced perception going in which was making me think I really needed to ensure I took everything in. Once I got past the early chapters though I fell completely into the rhythm of the story and flowed through the rest of the book.

What I loved the most was the subtle humour that the narration was able to add at the expense of her younger self. There's one running joke that had me giggling throughout which I really appreciated.

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