Caitlin Moran - How to build a girl

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Cailtin Moran How to build a girl
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*Disclaimer: All quotes are appropriately labelled and remain the copy-written work of Caitlin Moran. I do not own them and I have not changed them in any way.*

I picked up 'how to build a girl' on impulse as I was browsing Tesco's book section for something to read in their in-store Costa while I waited for my friends to finish work. It was actually a toss up between this and another book. I had heard of Caitlin Moran as she is obviously very big in today's social media and feminism scene, but I had never read any of her work or seen any of her interviews. The only thing I knew about her is that she has a big blonde fringe and she had a programme based on her childhood called Raised by Wolves that I didn't like the look of. I wanted to see what she was all about, so off I toddled to Costa with my new book tucked away inside a carrier bag.

One paragraph in and I was hooked. 

"I am lying in bed next to my brother, Lupin. 
He is six years old. He is asleep.
I am fourteen. I am not asleep. I am masturbating."

I quickly learned that Caitlin Moran is my kind of woman. Gritty, funny and clever, 'how to build a girl' tackles the issues of Johanna Morrigan, a misfit teenager growing up on a council estate in Wolverhampton who becomes a music journalist at the tender age of 16. The book's blurb states that although Caitlin herself grew up on a council estate in Wolverhampton and became a music journalist very young, the story is not biographical in any way. Although part of me cannot believe that someone can create a character so brilliantly real and in circumstances so similar to their own who is not based on personal experience.

Either way, Johanna Morrigan is my new hero. I challenge anyone who has ever been a hormone ridden teenager trying to find out who they are to read this book and not identify with Johanna in some way.  Johanna's motto is "fake it till you make it" and the story revolves around the character that she creates for herself when she doesn't know who she really is. It tells of the lessons she learns and the epiphany that she comes to as she grows and matures. It is a tale of self discovery, and truth, and valuable life lessons that can only be gained through experience.

As I sat in Costa for a hour and a bit, I read over 100 pages, laughing out loud in public like a lunatic. I could not put this book down. I drank up Caitlin Moran's words like I was in a desert and hadn't seen water for a year. (I'd probably be dead if that was the case but you get the gist). It was like reading one long, heart wrenching, relatable poem. The style in which this is written is beautiful whilst still retaining a cringeworthy humour that makes you almost cover your eyes in embarrassment for Johanna. Everything she does is so typically... teenage, yet so wise for her years. She is a paradox who does not know how talented or valuable she is, and that's what draws you in to her like a magnet.

Perhaps I read this book in one day because I saw so much of myself in her; because I know what it's like to feel like a misfit, and to try and reinvent yourself into someone much cooler and ultimately failing. Like Johanna, I wanted to be someone better than I was growing up. I humiliated myself more than you could ever believe was possible. I lay at the bottom of the stairs covered in ketchup and pretended I had been stabbed by a mystery intruder just to see the shock on my Mum's face. I thought my problems would end if I would a cool character who got pissed in the day and had an alluring sense of mystery shrouding me. I lived to write and I wanted to make it big - I left home at 17 in search of something better. I went through a period of self deprecation where I would lie under my bed and wish to cease existing. Oh and I was also obsessed with wanking myself silly over everything I could get my hands on (literally). I felt like Caitlin Moran had been spying on me my whole life, taking notes until she had enough embarrassing ammo to fill 340 pages and then reaping all the rewards of my misfortune. I am basically Johanna Morrigan. Or Dolly Wilde as she calls herself (my alter ego was a bit more posh and for some reason about 86 years older than I was - Evelyn D'Arcy).

Whatever it was, this book just resonated with me on a level that I can't describe. At some point, everyone tries to be someone that they are not because they think it will make them more popular, more likeable, more fortunate, more powerful - when really, the person that they are is enough. We are all likeable, and fortunate, and powerful - we just need to learn how to harness and direct that power. 

Although the general tone of the book is quite humorous, it touches on the darker parts of growing up like feeling alone, self harm, rejection and sexual identity. These subjects are tackled extremely well with beautiful narrative that takes you from laughing your socks off to open-mouthed shock in 0.2 seconds.

The build up of the story for me explodes in the amazing crescendo that Caitlin has called 'chapter 24'. Every part of the book points to this chapter, every end is tied and every niggling piece of self doubt displayed by Johanna is wrapped up in what I can only describe as the most touching thing I have ever read. And I have read a lot. I would copy out the whole chapter but to be honest I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that. My favourite part of my favourite part reads,

"And later, over a glass of wine - because you drink wine, now, because you are grown - you will marvel over what you did. Marvel that, at the time, you kept so many secrets. Tried to keep the secret of yourself. Tried to metamorphose in the dark. The loud, drunken, fucking, eyeliner-smeared, laughing, cutting, panicking, unbearably present secret of yourself. When really, you were about as secret as the moon. And as luminous, under all those clothes."

All I can say is that I'm so glad that Caitlin Moran built herself into the girl that she did, without whom I would not have had the pleasure of reading the tale of my own life through someone else's eyes. I would not have been able to say that I have finally, wholeheartedly fallen in love with a protagonist the way that only serious reader types do. So thanks, Caitlin. I thought you were a bit of a dick but you're brilliant, really.
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