I have referenced this book a couple of times in group posts and I have said I would blog about it. I decided that a re-read was in order so that I could have the story fresh and I was looking for a favourite read after a tumultuous week in the US following the election. It was just what I needed!
I read this book first in the winter of 2015 while I was in Jamaica with my friend M. I couldn’t put it down – it’s a coming of age story unlike any other I’ve ever read and it is both heartwarming and hilarious. I’m fairly certain the lifeguard laughed at me laughing out loud while reading. I thought that then, and I still feel that way although it was different the second time around. I find it interesting to re-read a book I loved as I found new things and it was a different read because I’m not quite the same person I was all those months ago.
All that aside, How to Build A Girl is a story about Johanna Morrigan, a 14 year old growing up in Wolverhampton in the UK. It starts in 1990 and Johanna lives with her often drunk father who still dreams of a music career and is on disability, a mother who was surprised by a fourth pregnancy that turned out to be twins, her older brother Krissi and younger brother, Lupin. Johanna wants to help her family out financially and enters a writing contest which she wins. She embarrasses herself on TV and decides she can’t live as Johanna anymore. That’s how Dolly Wilde comes to be and how Johanna builds a girl.
Dolly is Johanna’s alter ego and she decides she is going to be a music critic. Dolly is not like Johanna but is what Johanna wants to be. She is wild, brash and fancies herself a “Lady Sex Adventurer” as she enjoys her newfound freedom and fame. She writes for D&ME magazine and only writes about bands she doesn’t like. She has great adventures, interesting lovers, falls in love and becomes a feared critic. And through it all, she learns about herself.
The realizations Johanna has about Dolly and Dolly’s adventures make this story truly heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time and also so truthful about being a teenage girl. I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to ruin it and I do hope you read it. I’m a big fan of it and of both Johanna and Dolly and I want to say so much more about it. I was in no way like either of them as a teenager but I recognize the truth in “building a girl”.
Please let me know if you read it, I would love to chat about it!
P.S. The novel opens like this:
I am lying in bed next to my brother, Lupin.
He is six years old. He is asleep.
I am fourteen. I am not asleep. I am masturbating.
I look at my brother and think, nobly, “This is what he would want. He would want me to be happy.” (Moran, 3)
If you ever thought you might be a prude, consider yourself warned. And if not, enjoy!