Book Review: How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran


After years spent writing for the likes of Melody Maker and The Times as well as publishing two books based on her columns and non-fiction work, Caitlin Moran has now gone on to release her first fictional book. Though a lot of this is influenced from her own life growing up in Wolverhampton with lots of siblings on a council estate and then going on to work for a national music magazine at a young age, this book is purely fictional as stated on the inside of the book. But it is those own experiences of Moran’s that makes this an even more enjoyable and realistically informed read.

The book centres around Johanna, 1 of 5 children growing up on a council estate in Wolverhampton in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Her parents are on benefits and the North is going through the decline from the reign of Maggie Thatcher in Westminster. Johanna wants to die in order to reinvent herself, something she does successfully becoming Dolly Wilde, a successful yet sharp tongued music writer with a love for musician John Kite, eyeliner and cigarettes. What made this book really special for me though was not how well written and hilarious it was [seriously I read most of this on the bus and it was hard to control the giggles] but it’s that a lot of Johanna I related to.

This is sort of a coming of age novel but a more realistic version than others which talk about Hollywood style romances and road trips. This is all about finding out about yourself, making someone of the person you are, trying to be loved, trying to fit in and trying to find out just exactly who you are. Johanna is a relatively uncool kid but she wants to be liked, she wants to do something good with her life, she wants a cause and a reason to get out of where she has come from to be successful and reinvent herself. As a kid who was born and raised on a council estate and reliant on the benefits system I saw a lot of me in her. Plus, Johanna wants to be a music journalist, she is so excited about discovering music for the first time and at the ages of 14-16 I was exactly the same [I still am even now].

I loved Johanna as a character not just because personality wise she reminds me of myself [a more exaggerated and outgoing version] but because she is weird and a bit odd but determined and a fan of throwing obscure references into conversations. I wanted Johanna to succeed, I routed for her and I wanted her to get with John Kite, the alcoholic chain smoking musician that when I was 16 I would have been besotted with too.

As a columnist and writer I admire Caitlin Moran, she has become a complete inspiration to me over the years and with this her first fictional novel she has now given me a book I will treasure and read again and again over the course of my life. And if I ever have a daughter I’ll give her this book to read because the life advice she’ll find here is better coming from Moran in her witty prose than from me. I really do suggest you read this book, I’m sure a lot of you will resonate or take something from this and if not then it’s just a really bloody good story.

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