Book Review: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this book as while I’d heard of it I didn’t have a very clear idea what it was actually about. It’s safe to say the other reviews are fairly mixed. A lot of people love it and a lot of people complain that it’s a repeat of the authors previous book.

What I found though was a funny, sad and brutally honest story about growing up and working out who you want to be and what you want to do with your life. It’s probably not for the easily offended as there is a lot of swearing and sexual content (not the bodice ripping romance sort but the fumbling experimentation of a teenage girl) but I really loved it.

Synopsis (from GoodReads)

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 Bröntes—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 started reading it after one of those days (weeks, months) at work where you’re completely exhausted, feeling terrible and permanently on the brink of tears. I came home early (my boss insisted, that’s how bad I looked) climbed straight into bed and picked up this book which was lying beside it. After just a few pages I was giggling away and feeling so much brighter.

It probably reminded me a little bit of Adrian Mole’s Diary as, while it’s not actually in diary form (or about a boy…hmm, I’m starting to question the comparison), it’s a story about growing up, trying to fit in and finding love. It starts in the early 90’s in Wolverhampton and follows 14 year old Johanna Morrigan. Her parents are on the dole, her father’s an alcoholic wanna be musician and her mother has post natal depression after the latest birth (there are five children).

When Johanna accidentally says something to the wrong person she worries their benefits will be cut and they’ll have no money so she sets out to find a way to save them. Having a love of books and the library, she decides the only solution is to become a writer. When her initial attempts backfire spectacularly she comes to the conclusion she has to completely re invent herself. What follows is Johanna’s journey to discover who she is and who she wants to be.

A lot of it is very funny, some of her attempts to fit in are extremely cringe worthy and there are some moments that are a little bit heart breaking. I could definitely relate to a lot of the emotions if not necessarily Johanna’s actions. I worked out at some point that I’m almost the same age but I have to say that compared to her I’ve led a very sheltered life.

I thought Johanna was a very likeable character, a tiny bit annoying at times and not without flaws but I think most people are like that. Despite the outrageousness of some of her actions she always felt quite real and believable. I think I felt a little bit sorry for her most of the time as she seemed to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for her family and was always a bit of an outsider despite her best efforts to fit in.

I am obviously a romantic at heart as I have to admit my favourite parts involved a certain musician that she meets on her journey. She has the most incredible crush on him and while these are a lot of the most cringe inducing moments they are also, in some kind of weird, twisted way the sweetest.

There were a couple of points where I thought the pacing was a little off and too much time was spent on certain elements but other than that I thought the writing was pretty much spot on. I have seen some reviews criticising it for being very similar to some of her other books but haven’t read anything else so I can’t really comment. If you do want an idea of the sense of humour however you could try watching Raised by Wolves (link to IMDB) which she co writes with her sister. If you like it you’ll probably like this.

Overall, definitely a book I would recommend although possibly not one for the kids or the easily offended 🙂

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