I have always been a goody-two-shoes, a compulsive rule follower. I’ve never gotten a single detention, done drugs, smoked a cigarette, or drank alcohol as a teenager (except sips at family parties). That said, there is a little part of me that wishes I had done all those things. And that, I think, is why I enjoyed Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl so much. I secretly want to be (have been?) Dolly Wilde, teenage writer and Lady Sex Adventurer. I never will be (and not just because I’m no longer a teenager), but it was really fun to read about.
It’s 1990, and fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan has just taken one big step towards her dream. She’s won a writing contest. She is going to save her poverty-stricken family with her writing. Like Jo March. Or the Brontë sisters. Only without the dying young part. And then she manages to thoroughly humiliate herself on live television. Unable to leave her house without being taunted, Johanna decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde – a fast-talking, hard-drinking, goth music critic. By sixteen, she is smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, having casual sex with rockstars, and has dropped out of school to work full time for a music paper in London. Johanna Morrigan, as Dolly Wilde, is living her dream. But what happens when Johanna realizes that she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? That it’s harder to build a girl than she thought?
To be honest, I don’t know why I picked up this book (okay, it was partly because I found it on Book Outlet for like five dollars). It’s definitely not my usual genre -I’m just not that into the whole sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll thing. But I have absolutely no regrets! Caitlin Moran is amazing. This week, I also started listening to her memoir, How to Be a Woman, and it’s interestingly similar, but equally amazing. I want to be her best friend. Moran’s writing is hilarious and honest and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I laughed a lot. Because I remember what it’s like being Johanna Morrigan, I just never had the guts to build myself a Dolly Wilde. I identified with the main character in weird and unexpected ways and I loved it.
How to Build a Girl is touted as “The Bell Jar – written by Rizzo from Grease.” Which I think is an apt description (having both read The Bell Jar and watched Grease). It’s also kind of what sold me on this novel. But this novel definitely sold me on Caitlin Moran. I’m having a bit of a love affair with her writing at the moment, and I have no regrets. She is an awesome feminist best friend, and I truly love reading her books. Expect a review on How to Be a Woman the second I finish it!
Do yourself a favor and grab yourself a copy of How to Build a Girl (available here). And while you’re at it, you might as well get How to Be a Woman, too (here), because I’m not even halfway through and I already love it. P.S. I would not recommend reading them simultaneously, like I ended up doing (somehow, I didn’t connect that it was the same author until I’d already started), because they are really similar and it was a bit confusing. Just a heads up. Also, the audiobook of How to Be a Woman is fantastic! Anything that lets me spend my hour-long commute laughing is a win!