Monday, January 29, 2018

A Review of 'How To Build A Girl' by Caitlin Moran

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"The New York Times bestselling author hailed as 'the UK's answer to TIna Fey, Chelsea Handler, and Lena Dunham all rolled into one' (Marie Claire) makes her fiction debut with a hilarious yet deeply moving coming of age novel.

What 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 Brontes-- 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 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."

I have mixed feelings about this book.  But I found some things harder to buy into about this story than others and I was concerned about a few things, even though Johanna is a fictional character.  I'll start with the positive things first.

I appreciated Johanna trying to take her life, and in some ways, those of her family's, into her own hands.  It was getting harder and harder to make ends meet and even though Johanna felt like it was her fault this was happening, she didn't just let her family flounder.  She worked hard until she got a job and then worked hard at getting better at that job.  No matter what she was writing, she was ultimately successful at her craft.  I also appreciated that there was a level of... permission to enjoy sex.  It's not a shameful act and it's okay to enjoy pleasure.  I think too often it's seen as something done out of necessity and particularly if the woman enjoys it, it's saying something negative about her.  I don't agree with this point of view and I think it's damaging.

Unfortunately, this is where my cheerleading squad ends the routine.

I thought this book was wholly unrealistic.  And yes, you can make the excuse that this is a fiction novel and it doesn't need to be realistic, but I think given that this is not a fantasy novel, there should be some level of believability.  A lot of my skepticism revolves around Johanna's age.  By the time the book ends, Johanna can't be much older than sixteen.  So when she starts her job and is then asked to go out and party with the people she works with... how can they not know her age?  I don't know about this employer, but I've had to put my date of birth down on job applications... before I'm even hired by anyone!  Why is it that her age is completely ignored?  And then we crossed a line when Dolly/Johanna becomes sexually active... she is maybe 15 or 16 and she is having intercourse with grown men... I'm not so naive to think that teens her age are thinking about and even having sex at their age... I'm a teacher, I teach 14-16 year olds for a living.  But I'm pretty sure it's illegal and technically, Johanna can't legally consent to someone much older than her.  Not at this point in her life.

So what really bothers me about this book, and the reason why I'll be sending this book to Goodwill or Half-Price Books rather than putting it in my classroom now that I'm finished with it instead of my classroom is because her age is confused so badly and her maturity is, in a lot of ways, fake.

So yeah... this book is a mixed bag for me.  I wanted to like this book because I really liked How To Be A Woman which is also by Caitlin Moran, but I just can't bring myself to even pretend.

I give 'How To Build A Girl':
Thanks for Reading!


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