How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran is an unexpected pleasure to read. With vibes reminiscent of The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, this novel follows the story of zany teenage misfit Johanna Morrigan. How to Build a Girl takes a no holds barred approach to the coming of age subset of fiction, with delightful writing that causes physical discomfort and obnoxious laughter.
Moran’s storytelling is fortified by her apparent refusal to dumb down her approach to fit all niches, sugar coat her perspective on the throes of teenage lust, and all too real perspective on the class system. Throw in the musical works of the 1990’s, and you’ve got an instant hit with this reader.
The story begins when Johanna is only 14 years old, living in poverty with six family members: a wannabe rockstar father on disability, a loving younger brother, an older brother struggling with his sexual identity, and her exhausted mother in the clutches of postpartum depression after a surprise pregnancy results in twins. As the story progresses, Johanna struggles to find herself and where she fits in her home, her community, and the world. Her cringeworthy attempts at conformity and awkward lapses into obscure references from 19th-century literature make the book unbearable to read at times; not because the book is unenjoyable, but because it ignites sympathy in the reader during these scenes, making it hard to bear witness.
Most female readers will find a piece of themselves in How to Build a Girl. I often found myself nodding, and I’ve highlighted more than one passage to revisit in the future. I recommend this book to many of my female friends, and will certainly save a copy for my daughter to read as an adult.
Usually, during a review, this is the time when I’d interject with a negative. However, nothing comes to mind. Every portion of the story seemed to fit into the overall puzzle. The casual references to the future instilled hope even in the direst of situations. Every character added something to the story. I am without complaint.
While the characters of this story would undoubtedly be displeased with my glowing review- you’ll understand if you read the book- I give this read five stars, two thumbs up, and a must read for any woman who used to be a bumbling teen.
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