Growing up can often be a difficult time. In her book, How To Build A Girl, Caitlin Moran demonstrates just how difficult is can be if you’re a teenage girl in the early 90s, who is a bit porky, has lots of siblings and no friends, from a poor, benefit reliant family, living in Wolverhampton. This is Johanna Morrigan. And this is her life.
Moran has become known for her witty, honest and forthright writing, both in the non fiction and fiction genre. This building of a girl is no exception. We are thrown into Johanna’s world, one which shows just how varied an upbringing one can have, and how one’s circumstance and environment can effect character whilst in the supple stages of teen-hood.
Johanna is no shrinking violet, and it is this strength of character (which is not without vulnerability by the truck load… but a hidden truckload… round the back, love) which propels the narrative with a quick pace and a humorous tone. Johanna is in a constant search for what will get her out of her ditch, where money, or rather the lack thereof, restrains her and her family. Older brother, Krissi’s, hopes of University are wilting and her father’s dodgy business sense and persistence with a long failing dream to be a rock star are just a couple of the examples of how family life with the Morrigans is tough.
Thankfully, Johanna has her wit, and she begins to blossom as she stubbornly, and eventually, establishes herself as a music writer for a London magazine, D@ME. It was in this stage of her life however, where I found I drifted from the narrative. Lovers of music, particularly from the late 80’s/90’s era may find it more enjoyable, but I found that the specificity with which it is discussed, cut me temporarily out of Johanna’s life, or rather, Dolly Wilde’s, her music writer pseudonym. Her childish naivety within a difficult industry and towards the blurry field of love drew me back in however, as we see her make mistakes that may happen to any growing girl… though they all happen to Dolly in the space of two years.
This, not wholly charming, but wholly honest and essentially entertaining story is one of how a girl will build herself with an admirable motivation to improve herself and her circumstances, and, thankfully, not forgetting her roots in the end.