This book was so funny I became that creep on public transport who laughs insanely to themselves. It was entirely worth it. Even if you’re not into teenage coming-of-age/angst stories, you’ll want to read this one. Sure, How to Build a Girl is no Catcher in the Rye, but does Catcher in the Rye have a scene where the 14 year old female protagonist masturbates to her Mum? No.
And I’m referring to the deodorant, you filthy readers.
A ‘fictional’ story that still smacks of author Caitlin Moran and her own upbringing, How to Build a Girl tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, a teenager who lives in Wolverhampton, a town that’s been royally screwed over by Margaret Thatcher. Her dad’s on welfare waiting for his big break in showbiz, her mum’s depressed and worst of all, fat, poor Johanna Morrigan can’t get anyone to kiss her, so she’s stuck masturbating with various bathroom items in her room next to her brothers.
So, Johanna re-invents herself. And she does so in the same way that countless teenager girls have across the globe – through excessive make-up, booze, sex with strangers and a constant stream of vitriol. After all, if you’re too busy mouthing off someone else, you’ll never have time to hear them mouthing back at you, right?
After reading this book, I basically decided that I wanted Caitlin Moran to be my new best friend (sorry, actual, real life best friends for saying that). Whether it was the references to Lord of the Rings, the utter perfection of describing sex with a stranger (‘I’m not enjoying myself, so I’ll just pretend I’m witnessing things from his perspective’), or just the absolute strength of her unfazed protagonist, I was just overwhelmed by how cool she is. Which she probably gets on a daily basis.
Not that How to Build a Girl is all laughs. Well, actually it is, but nevertheless it included some eyeopeners, the major one being how much of a factor money is when you truly have none. There’s a moment when Johanna tells her boss at the music magazine that she can’t listen to CDs because she can’t afford the 20p it costs to hire them out…and I was just like, fuck. I am so middle class. Even though I whinge that I never have any money, and that I want to spend more clothes on shoes/alcohol/books, I’m basically a middle class pain-in-the-arse that has no idea what poverty feels like. I’m poor because I’m too busy saving up for a ridiculous holiday overseas (which, quite frankly, is usually in a country far poorer than Australia, so I can really be an arsehole and rub it in their face by living like a king). ‘Being poor’ means buying a bottle of wine instead of buying a bottle at the restaurant. ‘Being poor’ is waiting until cheap Tuesdays because I hate spending $18 on a cinema ticket (although seriously, $18?!). ‘Being poor’ is complaining about rent, but refusing to live further than 5km outside of the city centre.
Basically, I’m an arsehole. And How to Build a Girl showed me the light, so to speak. Not in a preachy way, thank god, but in a way that just allowed me to actually consider the situation I was in, and be grateful that I can afford my bottle of wine/cheap Tuesday ticket. Because Johanna, however fictional she may be, and countless others, don’t have that luxury. And Johanna is a teenage girl living in England – only she wasn’t lucky enough to be born in London.
How to Build a Girl is brilliant because it’s an ode to one’s adolescent, and the process we all go through growing up (or, let’s face it, still going through), without being a horrific gimmick-y, sugar-sweet love story that basically ends in flowers and rainbows. How to Build a Girl ends up almost how it starts – except Johanna has taken the responsibility to change her life, be a better person, and not mutilate, because surprisingly, that shit hurts.
Have you read How to Build a Girl? Are you also basically like ‘Step aside Lena Durham, I got a new fake bestie’? No? Well, read How to Build a Girl. Seriously. Then talk to me about it.