Tag: Caitlin Moran

How to Build a Girl

Cover image for How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moranby Caitlin Moran

ISBN 978-0-06-233597-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“Because what you are, as a teenager, is a small, silver, empty rocket. And you use loud music as fuel, and then the information in books as maps and coordinates, to tell you where you’re going.”

After humiliating herself on local television, fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan decides it is time to reinvent herself. She is desperate to move to London, and gain some distance from the poverty of her childhood growing up in a council house with four siblings, and an alcoholic father on disability payments. Borrowing CDs from the library at 20p a shot, Johanna begins reshaping herself through popular culture. Taking up the pen name Dolly Wilde, she leaves school at the age of sixteen to become a music critic for D&ME magazine, trying to make her way in an industry where her older, male colleagues generally regard teenage girls as “fannish.” As the enfant terrible of D&ME, she pens scathing, bitchy reviews, writing only about bands she hates lest she herself be deemed fannish. But no matter how hard she works to build Dolly Wilde, Johanna keeps finding flaws in her new persona.

Caitlin Moran would like you to know that How to Build a Girl is not autobiographical. The copyright page reads:

This is a work of fiction. Real musicians and real places appear from time to time, but everything else, the characters, what they do and what they say, are the products of my imagination. Like Johanna, I come from a large family, grew up in a council house in Wolverhampton, and started my career as a music journalist as a teenager. But Johanna is not me. Her family, colleagues, the people she meets, and her experiences are not my family, my colleagues, the people I met, or my experiences. This is a novel and it is all fictitious.

Additionally, the dedication reads: “To my mother and father, who thankfully are nothing like the parents in this book, and let me build my girl how I wanted.”  Nevertheless, How to Build a Girl will be familiar to anyone who has read How to Be a Woman; even the titles are similar. But while the story and the themes may be a bit familiar, Moran is nevertheless on the money about what it feels like to be a teen who tackles adulthood with a fake-it-until-you-make-it attitude. Her candour and humour carry the day.

Although featuring a teenage protagonist, How to Build a Girl is, in some respects, more for adults than teens. In the introduction to the advance reader’s edition, Moran, rather than hoping the reader likes the book, writes “I hope more that you remember it, all over again.” Indeed, How to Build a Girl feels very retrospective, and not just because it is set in the 1990s. There is a ruefulness in Johanna’s narrative voice as she recounts her teenage escapades, an embarrassment that occasionally verges on shame. It is not condescending, but neither does it reflect the typical way teens see themselves, and thus may appeal more to Moran’s adult fans than teenage readers. However, there is plenty here that we could do to see more of in YA, from a poor, overweight protagonist, a gay brother, and sex seen through a feminist lens. Moran’s cheerful honesty about sex and masturbation, and Johanna’s rage against sexist double standards regarding her “swashfuckling” status as a Lady Sex Adventurer are both refreshing and welcome.

How to Build a Girl has all of Moran’s signature humour, but retreads familiar territory given the striking parallels to Moran’s own life. However, fictionalization also gives Moran latitude to explore social and feminist issues beyond the bounds of her own autobiography.


Cover image for Moranthology by Caitlin MoranAlso by Caitlin Moran: Moranthology

YA Fall Fiction Preview Part II

Last week I highlighted some of the exciting science fiction and fantasy YA novels that are coming out this fall. This week I’m sharing some of the more realistic and contemporary YA that I heard about at ALA, although two of the four have potentially supernatural twists:

Cover image for Belzhar by Meg WolitzerBelzhar by Meg Wolizter.  Fresh off the success of her 2013 bestseller, The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer returns with Belzhar. Jam Gallahue’s boyfriend is dead, and she has been shipped off to a bizarre Vermont boarding school that is supposed to be therapeutic. A journal-writing assignment takes an unexpected turn when Jam discovers that writing allows her to access Belzhar, an alternate world where Reeve is still alive, forcing her to confront her loss anew. Coming September 30, 2014.

First sentence: “I was sent here because of a boy.”

Cover image for Conversion by Katherine HoweConversion by Katherine Howe. Seniors at the elite St. Joan’s Academy of Danvers, Massachusetts are under incredible pressure as graduation approaches. At a time when they desperately need to keep it together, one by one the girls at the school succumb to a mysterious illness that involves inexplicable seizures and tics. No one seems to be able to figure out what is going on, but Colleen Rowley realizes that Danvers now stands on the site of what was once Salem village, where three centuries before, a similar plague touched off the most famous witch hunt in American history. Inspired by true events, Conversion is available now.

First sentence: “How long must I wait?”

Cover image for How to Build a Girl by Caitlin MoranHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. Known for her humourous non-fiction works, including How To Be a Woman and Moranthology, Caitlin Moran’s new semi-autobiographical YA novel tells the story of Johanna Morrigan, aka Dolly Wilde. After humiliating herself terribly on local television, Johanna sets out to reinvent herself, building a new identity out of poetry, music, and paperbacks. She goes to work for a music magazine,  drinking, smoking, and writing scathing reviews of bands. But can she really build her coming-of-age out of records and novels, or is there more to growing up? On sale September 23, 2014.

First sentence: “I am lying in bed next to my brother, Lupin.”

Cover image for Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara FarizanTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan. Iranian-American high school senior Leila feels different enough from her peers thanks to her Persian heritage. She doesn’t need anyone to know that she also likes girls. But a beautiful and intriguing new student name Saskia opens Leila up to the possibility of coming out of her closet, and finally engaging with her peers, who also have secrets of their own. This sophomore novel by the author of If You Could be Mine will be in stores October 7, 2014.

First sentence: “My copy of The Color Purple lies in front of me on my desk, the spine bent and wrinkled from the many times I’ve pored over the book.”



Cover image for Moranthology by Caitlin Moranby Caitlin Moran

ISBN 978-0-06-255853-3

As a cultural icon, [Lady Gaga] does and incredible service for women: after all, it will be hard to oppress a generation who’ve been brought up on pop-stars with fire coming out of their tits.”

Following her 2010 book How To Be A Woman, Moranthology is a collection of essays and columns by the very funny British journalist Caitlin Moran. Whereas How To Be A Woman focused on—you guessed it—being a woman, Moranthology gives Moran free range, and range she does, from Michael Jackson’s memorial service, to meeting Lady Gaga (a reprise from How To Be A Woman), to the importance of libraries and what it’s like to live on welfare. Each column in introduced by Moran, with the reflections proving most humourous on her earliest pieces.

Like, I suspect, most librarians, my favourite piece in Moranthology was one of the more serious ones. Moran effortlessly proves that you can be serious and hilarious at the same time—which of course you already knew if you’ve read How To Be A Woman. Raised on welfare and homeschooled, in “Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls” Moran mounts an impassioned defence against library closures, lamenting the fact that “libraries that stayed open during the Blitz will be closed by budgets. A trillion small doors closing.” Even if you’re going to skip Moranthology, stop by the Huffington Post and read “Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls.”

Much of Moran’s humour is directed at pop culture, which dates very quickly. Since most of the essays in this book are reprints of Moran’s previous articles, many of the references are already quite dated less than a year after publication. Fans who read her work regularly will not find much new material here, so much as a nostalgic romp through the Best Of –. Of course, I can’t castigate her for being out of date too much; I had to skip all of the chapters containing her reviews of Sherlock, which I—shamefully—still have not watched. When introducing friends and family to Moran—as I will certainly continue to do—I’ll likely be pointing them in the direction of How To Be A Woman rather than Moranthology, at least for starters. However, there is plenty of fun to be had in revisiting The Royal Wedding, etc., and seeing them from Moran’s bitingly humourous perspective.