Monday, 14 July 2014

How To Build a Girl: Part 1

How To Build a Girl
Caitlin Moran

Readalong hosted by the awesome Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads!)

'I want to live for something, instead - as men do'

What to say? Part one of How To Build a Girl feels very introductory. Not in a boring-get-on-with-the-story kind of way, but in a hello-this-is-me-and-this-is-how-this-story-will-be kind of way. You know? Please be warned, I'm about to spill some spoilers (alliteration high five!).

We're introduced to Johanna, our protagonist, and her slightly dysfunctional family who are waiting for that something that will rocket them to riches (or just any money, really):

'The future always has different names, and different clothes, but the same thing happens, time after time: the future only comes to our house when it is drunk.'

The future we're introduced to is in the form of Rock Perry, a record label talent scout who turns out to only be a cutlery salesman. The first of many let downs.

As with everything Moran has written, How To Build a Girl is extremely to the point. She does not shy away from subjects that have unfortunately become somewhat taboo in our culture. Namely, masturbation. Yes, there's lots of that going on from the very first page. But it's good. It's about time that teenage female sexuality is included in novels (and not in a dirty, self-abuse, or perverted way) and Moran is the perfect person to hopefully get that trend in motion. Girls want sex too dammit.

Moran also has some words of wisdom to share about growing up (apparently it's about 'keeping secrets and pretending everything is fine'), and poverty (writing is one of 'the few things poverty, and lack of connections, cannot stop you doing').

Then there's this:

'Because my biggest secret of all - the one I would rather die than tell, the one I wouldn't put in my diary - is that I really, truly, in my heart, want to be beautiful. I want to be beautiful so much - because it will keep me safe, and keep me lucky, and it's too exhausting not to be.'

SOB. I'm sure there are very few girls/women on earth who cannot relate to this. As a short, frizzy haired, red cheeked and genetically-large-arsed-thunder-thighed-girl, I can seriously relate. When I was in my teens with raging hormones and some very slender and beautiful friends, I was constantly aware of my looks. I was also constantly unhappy with my looks (still working on it). In that school situation it always felt that the pretty, skinny, talented girls had it all, but now, retrospectively at least, I am so convinced that true beauty comes from within and all that other stuff is just that - stuff. This is what I love about Moran. She doesn't write unrealistic women, she writes us all. She writes about the small things that seem huge to a fourteen year old, the sexy things that are so often ignored, the body/beauty/life things that define how so many women grow up. Caitlin, don't ever stop, for all the girls out there. 

There's just one other quote I want to share, purely for the fact that's it's so damn real (for me, at least). She hits the nail on the head when she describes anxiety:

'Boiling in this quicksilver, electrocized soup forever, nerves jangling like the tiny bell over an empty shop door just after a nuclear explosion has left the shop full of the dead, and me the only one standing.'

Just, yes. 

And the final line of part one? Well, hello there, angsty cliffhanger.

'There are no two ways about it: I am going to have to die.'

Onwards and upwards!

You can pre-order the book from The Odyssey Bookshop here (US), or buy it from Foyles here (UK).



  1. I loved the quote about poverty and writing too... I think every single one of us quoted that beauty line in one way or another. God. So relatable.

    1. I can't even deal with all the relatable-ness.

  2. Yes! I'm glad you mentioned the quote about writing and poverty. I underlined it in my original copy of the ARC, which I promptly lost and then tried to remember all of the dog-eared pages whilst skimming my second copy to prepare for today's post.

    Thanks for giving a good overview of the book--I'll try to get a handle on that one next time, as that will be more of *actual* help to potential readers than all of my jumping around, bullet point, GIF-iness.

    1. I loved the writing quote. I immediately thought of Jo March - and of Jo Rowling, sitting in a cafe somewhere, depressed and poor, but writing something so powerful that soon everyone would know her name. LOVE.

    2. I need to get a handle on the gifs but it all seems a little much for me.

      That writing quote is really pretty awesome. I was worried my kindle would break with all the highlighting.

  3. Johanna is amazing. Caitlin Moran is amazing. There are so many quotes and little moments that I've already underlined and starred and hearted and emoticonned, because SHE IS SO GOOD AT HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD. The anxiety quotation, for example, is spot on - and also the most perfect description of the mindblowing agitation of depressive mania that I have ever read, intentional or not.

    What I find especially gratifying is the fact that for so many of us, Johanna is a wonderful character, with all the quirks and weirdness and spunk that we had/wish we had at school. And yet she's the kind of person that we would, let's be honest, not have wanted to be while we were actually AT school (some of us probably WERE, and were probably crucified for it). It very neatly illustrates how important it is for girls like Johanna to hold the hell on until school's over, when priorities change, the interesting people suddenly start to matter and the super-popular girls don't seem so special any more. A gratifying time for so many of us, I'm sure. :)

    1. Yes, yes, yes and, yes. Can I just say yes to everything you say?

      She really is full of all the weirdness I had and the spunk I wish I had. Even though her actual experiences aren't that relatable for me, there is something about her general personality and the way she deals that really resonates.

  4. "This is what I love about Moran. She doesn't write unrealistic women, she writes us all. She writes about the small things that seem huge to a fourteen year old, the sexy things that are so often ignored, the body/beauty/life things that define how so many women grow up" ---> This is so spot on. BRAVO YOU!

    It's funny, but even though I remember thinking about how political and aware this novel is when I was reading I had almost completely forgotten that when it came to writing my post. I think I just got caught up more in the holy-shit-i-forgot-how-awful-being-14-was chaos of Johanna's life, but your quotes about writing and poverty and the scene with her stressing about ruining her family's financial situation just really cements how large this novel actually is.

    I can't wait to read more.

    1. I was going to call out that same quote but you beat me to it. THANKS A LOT

    2. And BOTH of you beat me in quoting that bit. RUDE.

  5. Poor Johanna. Man I love her and all her wanking and insecurity but also genuine happiness and excitement and Moran, well done capturing 14-year-ness.

  6. I completely forgot about that anxiety description and how spot-on it is. It makes me anxious just reading it again.

  7. I feel like we've all related to this book so so so much. Which I love and NICE WORK CAITLIN. She's captured the feelings of slightly nerdy girls everywhere. Siiiiiigh

  8. Yes, that writing quote is so wonderful. I read the first section while I was sadly bereft of a pen, so I didn't underline/mark anything at all (hence the odd lack of quoting in my post... this will be remedied next week). But that was the point at which I realized I didn't have a pen and looked all through my bag for one.

    I'm so excited to see where that cliffhanger takes us (I only say "excited" because it's obvious she doesn't actually die, what with there still being about 200 pages left.)


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