Some of you may remember I met Caitlin Moran at a book signing a few weeks ago. Caitlin shared with me that How To Build A Girl is the first book in a series about the adventures of Johanna Morrigan/Dolly Wilde.
Fourteen year old Johanna Morrigan looks at her unemployed, alcoholic father, inattentive mother and grubby, hungry siblings, and realizes to make her dreams of becoming a writer true, she needs to escape the impoverished life of her family. Also, she’s tired of being a geek and boring and not being taken seriously by others. In a moment of inspiration, Johanna decides to completely reinvent herself. Two years later at sixteen, Johanna is now Dolly Wilde, a confident, chain-smoking party animal. She lands a job at a music magazine which becomes her gateway to all of the rock n’ roll and sexual adventures she thinks she needs to truly become Dolly Wilde. The results are mixed. Along the way she befriends, John Kite, an alcoholic music star that is Dolly’s father figure, mentor and crush all rolled up in one. Dolly makes plenty of shameful mistakes, but is determined to be a self-made woman and in charge of her own destiny. To grow up on her own terms.
Reading How To Build A Girl was like reliving my own youth with all its excruciating faux pas and missteps, but also the hopes and dreams I had for the future. I could relate to Dolly’s dissatisfaction with herself and attempt to find a tribe or something or somewhere to belong. As the story is set in the nineties, I also enjoyed the nostalgia trip, as Dolly constantly referenced songs, bands, movies, TV shows, books and celebrities that I knew and loved so much.
The language in How To Build A Girl can be quite crude and explicit, with liberal use of the “C” word and descriptions of genitalia, so this story may not be for everyone. Such language reminded me of how much swearing I did as a teenager and one particular friend whom some of the grown-ups in our lives had nicknamed “Foulmouth” because she was the worst of us.
Since I read How To Build A Woman mere weeks before picking up this book, I couldn’t help noticing how Catilin Moran’s memoir and How To Build A Girl mirrored one another, as Dolly Wilde very much resembled Caitlin’s younger self. However, the funny and touching coming-of-age story in How To Build A Girl stands head and shoulders above the memoir. I couldn’t help falling in love with Dolly Wilde because of her sweet naiveté, energy and enthusiasm for life.