Monday, November 3, 2014

How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

 How to Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran is a young adult novel I expect will quickly find itself on some banned book list here in the United States which is a good thing because hopefully more young women (and men) will read it if it is “tainted” with accusations of content that includes:  sex, drugs, alcohol, “offensive” language.  There’s probably more that will offend the type of adults who are offended by young adult literature that is honest, bold, and delightful.

The novel is told in the first person voice of Johanna Morrigan and the very first scene is an in-your-face moment of characterization.  She is lying in bed beside her younger brother who sleeps soundly while she masturbates.  Uncomfortable to read, it is without a doubt nothing like I’ve ever read before.  The rest of her family is gradually introduced—an older brother, twin infant brothers, an alcoholic father, and a mother struggling with postpartum depression.  They live in a less than ideal neighborhood, stuck in a cycle of poverty that fuels her dreams of something better.   

The novel is overflowing with pop culture references, although some of them are incorrect, which may or may not be intentional, because Johanna is all about trying on new ideas and even a whole new persona.  After an embarrassing moment on television, she rejects everything she is, renaming herself as Dolly Wilde, changing how she dresses, and taking the kind of risks that only come with inexperience. 

There are other flaws with the novel, with many characters which sort of come and go, situations likewise seemingly occur to simply give Johanna/Dolly an opportunity to have an experience to amuse the reader.  But by the novel’s end, there seemed to be more of a pattern than I initially assumed.  About ¾ of the way through the novel, I felt the narrative was unraveling, even falling apart, that the author was losing control of the story when Moran was actually setting up for things later in the novel, parallel moments, experiences that inform others, and, in the end, as troubling as some of the protagonist’s story may be, the conclusion is not contrived and completely gratifying.

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