Author: Caitlin Moran
Publication Date: September 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 Brontës—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 the 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?
I’ve given How to Build a Girl 4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.
Moran confronts notions of femininity and female sexuality in teen girls through Johanna Morrigan. Johanna is exploring her sexual awakening. Her sexuality is a self-defining aspect for her. She is less confident and embarrassed to be a virgin, even to have never been kissed. She reinvents herself into a confident, what she deems as worldly woman. This worldly woman is a sex adventurer. She’ll sleep with anyone and everyone, pushing the boundaries of comfort and acceptability, becoming more risque, to become the person that she believes other people will like. As a “woman,” she is a girl in adult’s clothing. She tries to break into the grown-up world too soon, without having those experiences of self-discovery and self-understanding along the way. Ultimately, Johanna loses herself, and she struggles with this.
The end of this book for me was by far the best part of the whole novel. It is the moment where Johanna really begins to discover who she truly is and embraces this person that she’s ignored and pushed aside for so long. The idea of “building a girl,” of building oneself, becomes so apart: Johanna believed that building herself meant being the person that she thought others would like and respect to some extent when in reality, building herself means becoming who she truly is and finding the friends that will accept her and enjoy her for who she really is.
There are more issues addressed beyond teenage sexual awakening. Moran addresses body image, self-confidence, poverty, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and concepts of gender. Johanna learns to navigate each of these issues, sometimes struggling to understand her place in the world, economically, socially, and in terms of her gender and age. It’s a complicated story about a girl trying to make her mark in the world. It’s about trying to find your way in a world that is often cruel and unforgiving, but also has people who are honest and true.