Author: Caitlin Moran
Publish Date: 3 July 2014
Genre: Feminism, coming-of-age
Audience: Young adult
I have been seeing ‘How to Build a Girl’ EVERYWHERE since it was released in 2014, and after finding it in a charity shop for 50p I decided I would cave in and read. Caitlin Moran is not somebody who I avidly follow, but I have heard enough to know that she is a very, very strong-willed woman and feminist, and so I was excited to see how these views would translate into the novel.
The novel follows Johanna Morrigan, a fourteen year old girl who lives on a council estate in Wolverhampton; her family are broke, and she is sick of being the overweight freak in school. So, Johanna decides to reinvent herself by launching into a music journalism career which ends up full of drugs, booze, and sex.
One thing I particularly like about ‘How to Build a Girl’ is the character of Johanna. Her voice is insanely likeable, and her actions throughout the novel do nothing but radiate feminism. Johanna is 100% not afraid to document her adventures surrounding masturbation and sex – significantly taboo subjects in this day and age, let alone in the 90s when the book is set -, and her determination to be the best at her career in an absurdly patriarchal situation is admirable. Whilst she is perhaps slightly more outgoing in her ‘Lady Sex Adventures’ (as she describes them) than most of us, Johanna is undoubtedly realistic in her thoughts. This translates onto a few of the other characters in the novel, particularly surrounding her family who I found all to be just as authentic as her. I especially found myself warmed to Johanna’s brother Krissi, who was not only extremely endearing but perhaps the most relatable to myself.
Whilst I did find the novel a little hard to get into – the first chapter or two are extremely scatty as you are launched into the situation with next to no explanation – I found Moran’s writing to grow on me as I carried on reading. The dialogue is realistic, and there are some really lovely passages of deep contemplation and self-discovery. However, there does tend to be frequent moments of rambling from both Johanna and her fellow characters which drags the novel a little – in a sense, it is almost too realistic. On quite a few occasions I found myself wanting to skim over paragraphs because I could sense they had no real value to the plot or characters. On the whole, I did find the novel to be an easy read as I finished it in under 48 hours, but I suspect that glossing over these moments of insignificance helped that case slightly.
Unfortunately, whilst the novel’s plot interested me from the outset, I found myself to become rather bored with the premise. Johanna’s character certainly ‘builds’ throughout, which is ultimately the main objective of the novel considering the title, but there is a significant amount of stagnation in her career which causes the plot to drag. Most of the second half felt extremely repetitive as Johanna spent her earnings on meeting rock stars to sleep with again and again, and whilst it was liberating to see a young woman make her own decisions, I feel like the amount it takes up in the story is unnecessary. I often found myself confused at significant points surrounding Johanna’s journalism as her ‘Lady Sex Adventures’ had completely dominated the text and overshadowed the plot of her career, even towards the end where it becomes notably important.
In conclusion, ‘How to Build a Girl’ by Caitlin Moran was a quick and empowering read surrounding a young girl who builds herself from nothing. The novel has an important message, and likeable characters. However, whilst it had a lot of potential to blossom into something remarkable, it never quite reaches that stage due to a lack of explanation and a heavy sense of stagnation. Nevertheless, it is worth a read if you are looking for a coming-of-age novel with feminist ideals and a strong-willed lead.