How to build a girl

Caitlin Moran, 1975-

Book - 2014

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New York : Harper 2014.
First U.S. edition
Physical Description
341 pages ; 24 cm
Main Author
Caitlin Moran, 1975- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

To make money when she fears she caused her struggling family's government benefits to be cut, teen library-junkie Johanna Morrigan submits a poem about her best friend, her dog, to a contest. She wins, nabbing a cash prize and a spot on Midlands Tonight. One on-air Scooby Doo impersonation later, Johanna is wishing she'd never been born until she decides she'll be reborn instead. Nearly overnight, autodidactic freaky fat girl Johanna becomes feared music reviewer Dolly Wilde, her tools of transformation being hair dye, eyeliner, a top hat—all black—and her radio. As herself, Johanna is endearing—­hilarious, pathetic, and wise. Bawdy Dolly adopts a successful fake it till you make it approach, getting known by tearing new bands to shreds and hastily, gleefully, explicitly jettisoning Johanna's many virginities. Almost suddenly, though, Johanna feels she's missed the mark, because what is there to be afraid of, really? In her first novel, comedian Moran's (How to Be a Woman, 2012) characters are huggable and aggressively real; her setting—1990s Wolverhampton and London—touchable; and her depiction of growing up well worth reading. One heartily hopes there's more where this came from. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

British cultural critic Moran broke out here with 2012's New York Times best-selling How To Be a Woman, an eye-opening look at women today through Moran's own life. Her fiction debut echoes aspects of her life—e.g., joining the music weekly Melody Maker at 16—before she became a prize-winning columnist at the London Times. Here, after an embarrassing incident on local TV, 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan decides to remake herself as out-there Dolly Wilde. Soon, she's drinking regularly, having lots of sex, and writing acidulous reviews of rock bands. But can you really build the perfect girl? With a 75,000-copy first printing. [Page 67]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Johanna Morrigan, 15, lives with her large family in the early 1990s in a council flat in Wolverhampton, a downtrodden city in the West Midlands of England. The family barely survives on disability payments from the government; her charming father is a drunk and a con artist, a wannabe rock star who despises Margaret Thatcher and pretty much all authority despite the handouts that keep them afloat. Johanna is friendless and extremely bookish, oversexed and desperate to lose her virginity, yet thwarted by her outsider status and complete lack of experience. A voracious reader despite her disregard for school, Johanna gets nearly all of her knowledge from the shelves of the public library. In an attempt to earn some cash for her family and break out of the confines of her narrow existence, Johanna reinvents herself as a rock journalist, bluffing her way into a job at a London magazine, where she creates an entirely new persona, complete with a new name. VERDICT It is rare to find such a brash, hilarious teenage heroine, unapologetic and open about her own sexuality. Moran's (How To Be a Woman) coming-of-age debut novel is both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, a treat for young adults as well as those who remember the era and its music. [See Prepub Alert, 3/3/14.]—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY [Page 70]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

"The 1990s are a bad time to be poor and not-famous," thinks 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan, who lives with her parents and four siblings on a council estate in Wolverhampton. Arguably, the new millennium brought little relief on this front, but for Moran (How to Be a Woman), the gritty British landscape of adolescence, set to a loud '90s soundtrack of the Stone Roses and the Mondays, is the stage for Johanna's fabulous reinvention of herself. Adopting the pseudonym Dolly Wilde, Johanna educates herself in eyeliner and contemporary music and begins submitting record reviews to a London weekly. In the process, she grows up, has adventures far beyond the estate walls, and learns to love herself. Moran's sharp sense of humor comes through in Johanna's observations. Gratifying, too, are the constant stream of '90s alt-rock references (Soup Dragons, anyone?) and the portrait of a pre-Internet world, where kids actually had actually leave their houses to find new identities. Unfortunately, Johanna's voice feels forced, and her exploits seem to surpass what might have been believable chutzpah. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

After she shames herself on local television, Johanna Morrigan reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde--a fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero--until two years later, while eviscerating bands as a music critic, she realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Now a major motion picture starring Beanie Feldstein!

The New York Times bestselling author hailed as “the UK’s answer to Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and Lena Dunham all rolled into one” (Marie Claire) makes her fiction debut with a hilarious yet deeply moving coming of age novel.

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?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.