What do you do in your teenage years when you realise 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, 14, 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 Brontes - but without the dying young bit.
By 16, 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 the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.
But what happens when Johanna realises 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, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 3rd 2014 by Ebury Press (Fiction)
ISBN 0091949025 (ISBN13: 9780091949020)
About the Author
Johanna Morrigan is a fourteen-year-old overweight “nothing” who recreates herself over the summer as Dolly Wilde, adventurous and fun-loving music critic.
I want to be a self-made woman. I want to conjure myself out of every sparkling, fast-moving thing I can see. I want to be the creator of me. I’m gonna begat myself.She is desperate to find a way to save her family after their government assistance is reduced and devises a plan to become a music critic to make money.
She is also obsessed with the idea of sex and losing her virginity, and begins to work hard at resolving this situation.
Rich’s mouth is so huge and billowy-- it’s like an endless feast, a banquet of man that I have finally been invited to.She builds herself, then rebuilds herself, and rebuilds again.
But it’s okay-- I’ve got plenty of time...When you’re seventeen, the days are like years. You’ve got a billion lifetimes to live and die and live again before you’re twenty...You’ve got plenty of time left to make things right.Johanna lives at home with her dysfunctional parents and siblings. Her father is an alcoholic dreamer who supports his family on government assistance while he drunkenly awaits his big break into music. Her mother appears to have given up on life, suffering from post-partum depression after the unexpected birth of twins. And she finds herself at an awkward stage with her brother Krissi, where he is pulling away into adulthood (and away from her oafish behavior), and Johanna finds she misses him.
The story starts when Johanna is fourteen, but fairly quickly it jumps a few years to Johanna at seventeen as her recreated self Dolly Wilde. I appreciated the idea of recreating yourself in this image of who you wish to be-- especially for a young person who hates themselves.
However this book felt annoyingly juvenile at times. It was a little too "YA" for my taste. I found myself being simultaneously amused and somewhat bored by both the characters and the story. When trying to put my finger on the the feeling, I thought, "It feels like laying around in a hammock on the weekend, bored with nothing better to do, and watching a bunch of pre-adolescent kids being obnoxious and entertaining themselves. If there were something better to do, I'd get up and leave."
The story was very crass and childish. I'm not saying that it was "offensive", as I'm not easily offended, and I in fact love a little crudity in my characters. However this story was just crass and juvenile, and I found myself mentally shaking my head as I would if this girl were talking to me in person, wishing she would mature, because despite her embellished accomplishments, she was very immature. Perhaps that is part of the problem for me. My mother always told me that I was "born to be 40" when I was a kid. I was always mature for my age. So while I "get" aspects of this novel and can see my juvenile-self in certain moments, overall I was never this immature and couldn't identify with much of it.
But I do issue a heavy warning to those who are easily offended. The book is full of vulgarity, distasteful references, coarse behavior, and sexual situations. So tread carefully.
Monday, September 29th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, September 30th: The Scarlet Letter
Wednesday, October 1st: Fourth Street Review
Thursday, October 2nd: Lit and Life
Tuesday, October 7th: The Steadfast Reader
Wednesday, October 8th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, October 9th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Friday, October 10th: Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, October 13th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, October 14th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, October 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, October 15th: guiltless reading
Thursday, October 16th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, October 17th: Books à la Mode
Monday, October 20th: Consuming Culture
Tuesday, October 21st: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, October 22nd: The Whynott Blog
TBD: Book Addict Katie
My final word: This book actually consisted of some decent writing which had the ability to move the story along at a steady pace. And it was a peculiar story, which gave it a little interest, but I found it essentially lifeless. It was just "okay" for me-- a momentary distraction that I will quickly forget.
Barnes and Noble
I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.