“In the end, I go where I always go when I need information on something baffling, poisonous, or terrifying: the library.”
Influenced by Moran’s own life, How to Build a Girl follows teenager Johanna as she decides to ‘kill herself’, meaning killing the boring Johanna and instead becoming Dolly Wilde. Dolly Wilde is meant to be interesting, covered in eyeliner, smart and generally more desirable than what Johanna has been. Although as all of us who have tried to change ourselves as teenagers will know, it doesn’t always work out how you planned ( I myself went through a phase of hating my name and trying to get everyone to call me Frankie…a shortened version of my middle name).
While this is not Moran’s autobiography, anyone who has read How to Be a Woman will see that Caitlin’s younger life does have a number of parallels (which she addresses before the start of the novel). This isn’t lazy writing, while the similarities are obvious such as Johanna living in a small flat with a lot of siblings and her ambition to be a writer, the character is definitely her own person and absolutely hilarious. To draw one last parallel, the novel talks a lot about masterbation, so much so it opens with Johanna masterbating…in somewhat questionable circumstances.
For anyone who’s ever felt like the odd one out or anyone who’s wished they could just become someone else, you’ll like the character. She’s young and headstrong but also incredibly funny. Most of all though, she’s a teenager who’s trying to get through her life and work out what she’s going to do with it. The only person really at her side the whole time is the dog, as she doesn’t have many friends. In fact she sends a lot of time being yelled at by the local yobs. After thinking she’s gotten her family into big trouble, Johanna needs to get money fast and so she has to come up with a plan using one of the few talents she has.
To go further than that would ruin the fun of How to Build a Girl. I will say though that Moran’s wit comes through just as strong in this novel. It’s also fun and nostalgic to see the world through the eyes of a young teenager again and that sense of being able to just decide to do something and work out how it’s all going to work out later. One of the best things about Johanna though is that because she is flawed is what creates a loveable character. She gets into all kinds of mischief throughout, but at the end of the day there is a big heart too and a real love for the family who sometimes drives her mad.
I gave How to Build a Girl five stars *****. If you’ve read any other books or articles by Moran it’s very much in the same chatty style and doesn’t hold back from what she thinks. The best part is that How to Build a Girl is also supposed to be the first in a trilogy! Johanna is set to come back for more and if, like me, you can’t wait for more Moran after this her new book Moranfesto comes out next week (I’m not sponsored, just super excited). It really is an entertaining read and worth picking up the next time you’re in a bookshop!