The key to being a teenager is knowing how to “fake it ’til you make it” and if you’re Johanna Morrigan, “faking it” means taking on a new persona that goes by the name of Dolly Wilde. Dolly’s a bit different than Johanna, she’s a drinker, a top hat wearing Lady Sex Adventurer. Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s niece who was a lesbian, drinking, heroin addict, Johanna’s determined that if she becomes “goth”, she’ll be able to help her family out of a jam she ended up putting them in and this makes perfect sense since How to Build a Girl is set in the 90’s. Johanna’s family is quite large and her Father’s pipe dream of making it in the “music biz” doesn’t appear to be panning out anytime soon. By accidentally letting it slip that their family collects disability, Johanna lives in constant fear that she’s ruined her family’s steady income. In preparation of the big fallout, she determines that her writing will help that “save them” after winning a contest in their town.
With the prize money as her indication that she might actually be good at this writing thing, she decides to become employed. As a teenager, I got the typical teenager job… fast food, telemarketing, etc… but Johanna’s got something else in mind. She decides that she’s going to focus and channel Dolly and study music at her local library. She considers herself the only one in her home with a real job and is determined to learn everything there is to know about music history that have helped to shape 90’s bands and music. Diligently spending hours at the library (sometimes with her twin siblings at her side) and patiently waiting to sign out music with her library card, she becomes better and better at understanding music and the ways in which she should write about music. It’s that determination that lands her a job at D&ME magazine and allows her to get front stage (and backstage) passes to any show she’s interested in reviewing.
With gumption and a little narcissism, Johanna/Dolly is the perfect combination of confidence and insecurity. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a character like this sixteen year old girl. Things were challenging for her and her earliest writing for the magazine got misconstrued with being a bit fan-girly, so she amps it up and spends much of her energy “telling the truth” i.e. being “Dolly”. With constant begging from her Father to include his music in the magazine and her Mother’s instance about saving money, she finds herself pushing boundaries and making decisions that she wants to make, regardless of what others have to say. Sometimes she’s very aware that it might not be the best decision, but she’s all about going against the grain and sometimes that means making decisions that scare you. I only wish that at sixteen, I had half as much charisma as she has in this book! You’ll want to be friends with her and you’ll want to be her, which is the best kind of character in my opinion.
Caitlin Moran is a face I’d see constantly popping up at bookstores and on Twitter, but it wasn’t until my friend Anne insisted we head to Indigo to go get one of her “free hugs”. I stood in line with my one job… taking a nice picture of Caitlin and Anne. I honestly had no intention of buying a book. That was until I started chatting with those around me in line. They insisted that my world would expand by reading any of Caitlin’s books. They promised she’d be witty, hilarious and rambunctious and I’m officially happy to report that they weren’t lying. There was no exaggerations and no bullshitting. Caitlin Moran can write and she knows how to make a goth, sex obsessed sixteen year old come to life in a way that can only be explained by reading this book. Highly, highly recommended.
If you’ve read this one, leave a comment below sharing your reaction to the book. And if you haven’t read it yet… what are you waiting for? Take my word on it, you don’t want to miss out on this glorious read.