Publisher: HarperPublished: September 23, 2014Pages: 352What 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 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?
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.
Honestly, I had a really hard time getting into this book, but once I made it past 100 pages I finally got into the style and thought process of the narrator. Johanna is a teenage girl that you follow through her life from the age of fourteen through seventeen. The story is written as a narrative from her point of view and it's like a stream of thoughts while she also reminisces of her time growing up.
Mostly it's of her becoming a writer for the D&ME music magazine where she recreates herself as Dolly Wilde, someone who is anything but who she really is. She makes up a personality so unlike her own and fakes it 'til she makes it. She says all of these crude things about different bands, she has crazy sex with pretty much anyone and lives to share the tales of her debauchery. You pretty much get to watch her grow up in the music industry filled with bands, music, drugs, alcohol non-stop partying and "awesome sex adventures".
Dolly Wilde makes some insanely poor choices in her quest to become a girl that everyone notices and in the end she says: "So what do you do when you build yourself - only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things?" and "I have to conclude: this experiment has been a massive failure."
It's filled with awesome pop culture references: music, TV, movies, books and musicals. I found many of her references hilarious and spot on. For a girl of her age she sure knows a lot of pop culture information.
In the end I think this book needed more about the music, her writing and her family. I think it centered too much on her crazy antics. I know that the craziness is what helps her figure out who she really wants to be, but only by crashing and almost burning does she come to figure this out.
I think there will be a ton of fans of this book and writing style, but for me I think I was looking for a character a little less gritty and a little more well rounded. Though I guess that is part of growing up and finding yourself...
Caitlin Moran was named the Columnist of the Year by the British Press Awards in 2010, and Critic and Interviewer of the Year in 2011 for her work at the Times of London. Her debut book, How to Be a Woman, won the 2011 Galaxy Book of the Year Award and was an instant New York Times bestseller.