Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran
Release Date - September 23, 2014
Publisher Website - Harper Collins
Publisher Social Media - Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader/Frenzy
Pages -  336 pages
My Rating - 3.5/5
**received in exchange for an honest review from the publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Caitlin Moran's How To Build A Girl. I'd never read any of her previous work, and didn't really know much about her. It turns out that How To Build A Girl is a sharp, poignant look at what it means to grow up as a girl. It also happens to be a book with a lot to say.

Caitlin's writing is like a razor. Stinging, sharp, and attention grabbing. I found myself unable to read this in public simply because I was laughing too much. Her writing won't be for everyone. It's unapologetic in it's brashness, but that is why I adored Johanna's voice. This, from what I understand, is semi autobiographical, and as a result the novel pulses with Johanna's personality. As her confidence in herself grows (both real and put on for appearances) the writing reflects this. The writing, gives Johanna a very real, and honest voice that shines through the entire novel.

Sex, the act itself, and sexual discussion, is prevalent throughout the entire novel. Johanna is a girl who is sexually curious. She masturbates. She wants to have sex. She thinks about sex, a lot. I have a longer, more focused post idea discussing this, but the notion of female sexuality and how it is shown in media has always both fascinated and angered me. How it was handled in this novel, however, was brilliantly done. Both men and women enjoy sex. It may seem like an obvious thing, but in media it sometimes doesn't feel that way. Women are held to a different standard than men when it comes to sex. I can recall being told growing up that a 'proper lady' did not talk about sex. Woven into this is, obviously, slut shaming. Johanna is shown to be judged for her sexual activities in ways that her male counterparts would never be. She even, at times, judges herself. This is made all the more poignant when she realizes that it's perhaps not even what she wants to do, but rather what is expected of her because of this persona she's built.

The idea of being someone you're not to please others is something I could over-relate to. I am guessing many people will feel the same. There is a telling section where Johanna asks herself if she is doing something because she wants to, or because it'll make someone else happy. She admits that she's never stopped to ask herself what SHE wanted, and if she was enjoying something. Was she having sex with someone because she wanted to? Did she really want to smoke? Does she really not like that band? These questions are peppered though out and speak to not only her character, but the theme of novel. Girls are told to be 'good' and to be 'gentle (at least I was). That being too forceful in your opinions, especially with men, was not attractive. You were not to argue or cause a fuss. Luckily, I grew up and became my own person, and that is Johanna's journey. Imagine, though, if we told all the young girls out there that their opinion mattered right from the beginning? I think that would be a truly wonderful thing, and I think Caitlin Moran is saying that here.

My only issue with this novel is that, at times, it does feel repetitive. Johanna seems to be learning the same lesson over and over. However, isn't that realistic? Don't we all make the same mistakes again and again? People often make those same decisions, and face the same outcomes. It may have felt realistic, but it did cause a bit of a drag to the middle of the novel in an otherwise tightly woven story.

A bitingly hilarious, honest look at growing up, Caitlin Moran, captures all the ups and downs of coming of age, and the lessons we all have to learn. There is plenty to enjoy for those who enjoy brash, abrasive humour, and plenty of thoughtful insight in their writing. A truly engaging read that charmed me, and left me laughing. This will have younger girls sneaking it off their mother's (or older sister's) bookshelf to devour, and I can think of no higher compliment than that.

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