How to Build a Girl — Review

November 25, 2014

This review is qualified by the fact that I have not yet read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, which incorporates tales of her adolescence with social commentary and observations of women’s lives. How to Build a Girl, though not strictly autobiographical, appears to draw on many of the same experiences as an adolescent music writer. I cannot personally speak to any similarities, but some Goodreads reviews (which should generally be taken with the largest possible grain of salt) suggest there are enough to be distracting.

There you have it. That’s my disclaimer/fair warning/what-have-you. Onward!

I really enjoyed this book. It felt bold and awkward and earnest and so very teenaged. So many of the experiences (particularly with her exploration of early sexuality) and her reactions/rationalizations are incredibly cringeworthy. Johanna, our protagonist, does not experience her feminist awakening quite as early as I want her to (despite her nod to the Riot Grrrl movement), but as much of this book reads like a reflection I can almost view this as her older self looking back with a “hindsight is 20/20” attitude.

Johanna reinvents herself as a drinking, smoking, hellion as a way not only to save her family, but to escape emotionally from her poverty and uncertainty-ridden family life. When she is her alter-ego she is a shameless and ruthless— talking explicitly about sex with rockstars and ripping bands to shreds.

But what happens when Johanna stops to look at this persona she has built and realizes that it isn’t so great?

How to Build a Girl is speckled with words of wisdom about growing up, getting better, and becoming the person you want to be.

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