Book Review: How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran / 368 pages / ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“So what do you do when you build yourself up – only to realise you built yourself with the wrong things?” 

First published in 2014, I was introduced to this novel after one of my work colleagues recommended it to me. I rely on recommendations often, so if you have any please let me know!

Caitlin and I go way back to my teenage years of spending time on a Saturday morning with my grandparents who religiously bought and read The Times newspaper. She’s been a journalist and a columnist for The Times for a while, but beforehand she was a music journalist – similar to the story which I’m reviewing today. Moran has always been one of my favourite journalists in the way in which she writes; she’s like a friend telling you naughty stories knowing you’re going to giggle the entire time. Moran was a fabulous influence on me in my teen years and I loved her blunt, no-nonsense political writing. To say that I was excited to read this novel was an understatement!

Working class, poor, 90’s Wolverhampton is where our story starts, with our protagonist Johanna Morrigan. Johanna is overweight, obsessed with having her first kiss, well-read and quite the misfit. She has a singular friend outside of her close-knit family of 7, Violet, an older lady who lives with her two cats.

We’re taken on a roller coaster of hilarity throughout the first section of the book; Johanna barking like Scooby Doo on national television out of nerves after winning a poetry competition, deciding to become a completely different person – Dolly Wilde – and becomes a writer for a music magazine, D&ME. This section of the book is what I can relate to the most as I grew up in a poor, rural, working class area until I moved to university. What Moran writes about in this section of the book is something that many families went through back in the ’90s; not enough money to go around and many, many people being ‘on the dole’, i.e. collecting state benefits.

Once she becomes a writer for D&ME, Dolly (Johanna) is exposed to new music, band members, sex, drinking and drugs. Although Dolly doesn’t partake in much, I’m going to use it as a trigger warning to anyone interested in reading. After a love-struck first ‘proper’ review, she decides to only write about bands she hates after criticism from her boss. She slowly but surely becomes one of the most hated writers in the music journalism game and even gets a pint of vodka tipped over her at one point!

Dolly slowly becomes Johanna again after a large argument with someone she’s seeing and isn’t sure whether he’s her boyfriend or not. Johanna has realised that she’s not writing about what she wants to and is unhappy after speaking to her musician friend, and subject of her love-struck review, John Kite. He makes her think about “why” she’s writing and we get back on track to Johanna moving to London with her brother, Krissie.

The ending is my favourite as Johanna has realised she doesn’t like who she’s become and at this point in the story Johanna is responding as an older version of herself explaining that you can tear apart what you’ve done and become someone new, taking things from each iteration of yourself and overtime really becoming who you want to be.

I’ve skimmed the brilliance that is this novel and Moran’s writing as I wanted to give an overarching review without major spoilers. There’s lots of wonderful phrases, coming of age experiences and moments which are jam packed in How to Build a Girl.

Moran has written a novel which is so relatable to any woman in their later teenage years or early adolescence. It’s an all encompassing coming of age novel and I was hooked from the first page. Perhaps it’s because I could relate to Johanna’s start in life, but I genuinely and thoroughly enjoyed How to Build a Girl – I read it in two days but easily could have finished it in one sitting.

Overall, How to Build a Girl is absolutely fantastic – go read it!


Hey everyone! It’s been a while again. Sorry about my inconsistency on here; I’ve been going through quite a lot in my personal life lately, however, I’ve got a few tags and other posts planned so I’ll be much more active soon!

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