I am always up for a coming of age novel set in the 1990s with a dollop of rock-n-roll. Seriously, who wouldn’t be? That’s the good stuff, right there, which is why I was rather gleeful when I snagged How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran on sale. (Kindle Daily Deals are my kryptonite.)
How to Build a Girl is the story of Johanna Morrigan. Born into poverty in Wolverhampton, England, she posesses the sort of teenage awkwardness that all but the very lucky deal with at some point. Unfortunately, part of her awkwardness is displayed prominently (and weirdly) on local television, so she decides she’s had ENOUGH of being Johanna and constructs a new identity. Enter “Dolly Wilde,” the hard partying rock-n-roll journalist and resident badass of the London indie rock scene. Between the smoking, drinking, sexcapades, and the brutal reviews she provides for her magazine, Johanna begins to realize that the persona she built may not be the person she wants to be at all.
This book is a no-holds-barred teenage crazy fest. Those that are upset by casual drug usage, dysfunctional family situations, sexual encounters, and instances of self-love, be warned. If you’re not put off by those things, How to Build a Girl is an excellent and thought-provoking coming-of-age story. Johanna’s encounter with The Smashing Pumpkins about did me in with cringe-laughter. That’s a thing, right? Cringe-laughter?
What REALLY hit home for me, though, was Johanna’s writing. She was so intently focused on making a name for herself and getting a reaction that she brutally eviscerated countless bands. As someone who “reviews” books in what I hope is an amusing manner, I found this especially poignant. In reviewing, being nasty is easy. Johanna had the disadvantage (or privilege?) of writing in an era where one could not hide behind the internet. A well placed cocktail to the face led her to the realization that she enjoyed being enthusiastic about what she loved more than being casually cruel about what she didn’t. Now, I will firmly stand behind a person’s right to say what they feel, and there is ABSOLUTELY a place for artistic criticism and personal taste. I’ll tell you what I don’t like and why, but I’m unlikely to suggest that anyone be “buried up to their necks in all their unsold records, then stoned to death by angry peasants.” (That was pure “Dolly Wilde.” Amusing, but so, so mean.)
Talk to me, Bookworms. Do you ever feel that comedy crosses a line into cruelty, or do you think everyone is just too dang sensitive these days?
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