How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this book. I love Caitlin Moran’s witty column in The Time’s weekend Magazine but I wasn’t convinced that this writing style would translate to novel form. However I was proved wrong. While this isn’t exactly a ‘serious’ novel, it was still very well written and was the kind of book you could binge-read in a couple of sessions because it was so readable.

It felt a little bit like the books I used to read as a teenager as the protagonist and narrator is Johanna, a seventeen year old girl living in a council house in Wolverhampton at the beginning of the 1990s. Her crazy and hilarious narration reminded me of the ‘Confessions of Georgia Nicolson’ series by Louise Rennison that I loved when I was fourteen. However, as a book which Moran confesses to being ‘a book about wanking and shagging’ this would have been maybe less suitable for my impressionable and naive fourteen-year-old self. That said, it perfectly captures the incredible complicated-ness of being a teenager and finds wisdom and counsel at the end, making it a coming-of-age book that a lot of girls could do to read!

The novel is really very funny – I honestly cried with laughter at one point. It took me a while to get into the humour, the first chapter or so felt like it was trying a little bit too hard to shock, as its kinda crude in some places. But once I got past the opening scenes, it was a really enjoyable read. Many of Johanna’s escapades are quite specific to her socio-economic background but Moran makes everything feel relatable and it was easy to see parts of myself in Johanna’s character. These moments of feeling that “we’ve all been there” is what makes the humour so brilliant. Moran has a magnificently idiosyncratic way of describing things, something that makes her non-fiction writing so unique too, and this is the best thing about the novel.

Moran addresses class head on, without apology or excuse. Johanna’s house, her family, her home town and familial income are the first things you learn about her and Moran deftly shows how all these things influence the way Johanna is and how it shapes her personality and her attitudes to things. I thought this kind of realism was refreshing because I think many novels include class as if it is only of secondary importance… which sometimes it is, if you’re lucky enough to be comfortably middle class. But otherwise, class can often be romanticised or pushed to the sidelines.

This novel can also be described as feminist – it’s title sort of announces this – but this wasn’t the main thing that I took away from the book. However I did like the way that Moran discusses Johanna’s sexual experiences and her perception of herself. These are issues that are being talked about more, such as in articles that seem to feature a lot in The Guardian, but I generally find these articles irritatingly preachy and not particularly conducive to changing things because of the way they create hostility and defensiveness. The way that Moran frames these issues was a lot more subtle, whilst still getting her point across.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of Moran’s other writing.

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2 thoughts on “How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

  1. Thanks for posting! Have you read her How To Be a Woman? While it doesn’t say anything exactly groundbreaking, I like it for the fact it’s accessible and funny and in my wildest dreams could get young girls to focus on feminism rather than selfies…Bronte Turner

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    1. I have only read a couple of extracts from ‘How to be a Woman’ but I would like to read it! Her books are definitely accessible and I think that is really important when writing about something that might challenge opinions, such as feminism. Thanks for reading my review!

      Liked by 1 person

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