Caitlin Moran’s debut coming-of-age novel, How to Build a Girl, tackles two topics that not enough literary or even coming-of-age fiction does: the sex-obsessed teenage girl and a family living in poverty. I found both topics refreshing, even eye-opening at times, and believe that both will give book groups a lot to discuss.
What she really wants is to be desired, to have sex,
and to catapult into the world of sex, drugs, and
rock and roll as a music writer.
Johanna Morrigan is fourteen when the book begins. It is 1990 and she lives with her parents and four siblings in council estate housing in Wolverhampton, England. Johanna dreams of escaping the trappings of her life, but what she really wants is to be desired, to have sex, and to catapult into the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as a music writer.
In a sardonic, brash tone, Johanna describes her funny/pathetic family members and her nagging worries about their fate. What will happen if they lose their government assistance? But with two parents exhausted by life, Johanna grows up faster than she should. When Johanna manages to land a gig as a music writer under the moniker Dolly Wilde, her parents allow her to drop out of school and carouse with rock stars at all hours.
How to Build a Girl is an odd, combustible mixture of hilarity and cringe-worthy sadness. In a way, it makes perfect sense that “Girls” actress and writer Lena Dunham is quoted on the front as saying, “I have so much love for Caitlin Moran.” Moran and Dunham are two peas in a pod, presenting young women who aren’t afraid of exploring and confronting their sexuality, airing their anxieties, and mining their mistakes in life and love for laughs and hard-won wisdom.