Caitlin Morans How to Build a Girl is exactly that; a how to on putting together a girl piece by piece, all by herself, from the inside out. Fourteen year old Johanna Morrigan, growing up in early 1990’s Wolverhampton, England, begins writing rock music reviews as Dolly Wilde to save her family, and escape her poverty stricken life. Along the way she begins to discover who she is, or at least who she wants to be. She begins shedding her cocoon after meeting her rock star best friend and crush John Kite and starts coming into her own; fully aware that she is outgrowing her small town and knowing it’s time to expand out into the world. She is a girl driven to bring the dreams inside her head to fruition in real life. She dicovers that she has control over her own life and what happens or doesn’t happen to her. This is a book that, overall, is about reinvention, which is never finished; reinvent, then reinvent again. There are many references throughout the novel to David Bowie who was a master of reinvention.
Moran’s writing is straight forward, clear and concise, full of sass and humor. It is easy to fall for Johanna as she aims for her dreams of rock critic stardom, and her inner journey of self discovery. Moran uses Johanna’s journey into Dolly Wilde to express the themes of feminism and class differences. The book is riddled with unforgettable characters aside from Johanna; her desperate, failed pop star father, her exhausted mother, her always exasperated brother Krissi and her very loved little brother Lupin, to the personalitites she meets writing for D&ME magazine and the rock stars she befriends, and the bands she critiques. It’s a very relatable story even if the reader hasn’t grown up in 1990s Wolverhampton or lived the rock and roll life; for everyone has gone through trying to find themselves, probably more then once, especially in the teenage years. Moran very clearly remembers what being a teenager was like and she has expressed that here so perfectly. It is a story so universal anyone can find themselves in Johanna, in some way or another. This was the first of Moran’s works that I have read and I have to say that I was not let down, indeed, I was pleasently surprised that I didn’t want to put the book down. Highly recommended.