Review: How to Build A Girl

How To Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran


Published September 23rd 2014 by Harper Collins

352 pages

Source: E-ARC from edelweiss

From Goodreads…

20525628What do you do in your teenage years when you realize 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, fourteen, 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 Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, 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 realizes 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?

I really really wanted to love How to Build a Girl.  I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman recently and I was literally copying portions into my phone to text to Holly because I loved it so much.  Moran has said that Johanna Morrigan a/k/a Dolly Wilde is not her.  Yes she’s also from Wolverhampton, also grows up poor, is also really into masturbation and breaks into the music scene at 16-but they’re not the same person.  So they just sound a lot like the same person?

I was sad yet still entertained when reading about poor Johanna, but I found her alter-ego Dolly to be the truly pitiable part of her character.  Dolly makes an amazing break into music journalism when she’s 16 years-old.  I loved Dolly in the beginning!  How brave to reinvent yourself!  Dolly is dying for her first kiss and feels pretty much unloveable.  Dolly’s sexual awakening is funny – up to a point.  It got much less funny when, as Dolly started calling herself a lady sex adventurer but actually she just became a sexual plaything without a brain.   Not to fear!  Dolly does find her own voice, which made me happy but for the book overall was too late for me.  The story was almost too preachy along the way despite the rock life content and language, so I felt like I knew what was going to happen in the end.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t read this, because really I found myself laughing out loud at times.  Its not a bad book.  Its just not the book I wanted it to be.  Apparently its the first of a trilogy and I’ll definitely keep reading because I really like Moran.  I appreciate a lot of what Moran has to say about feminism and about poverty and class.  I will look forward to seeing who Dolly grows into with her own voice because she has a lot of potential!  I want to feel how I felt when reading How to Be a Woman so I hope to find that again in Moran’s fiction yet to come.

3 stars

Thank you Harper Collins and edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.


  1. Sounds like when I first read one of Jen Lancaster’s fiction attempts having been a devotee of her memoirs and her blog – her fiction was a thinly veiled account of her experience renovating her new house. Dolly sounds really similar to Caitlin Moran in How to Be A Woman. Like you, I’ve read that one recently. I’m still curious but this sounds like a library book to me! Glad I read this review!

  2. I’ve been curious about this one. The covers of both How to Be A Woman and How To Build a Girl are so similar that I have been leery about reading either of them. It sounds like I don’t need to rush out to read them. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s