How To Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran
Read Along! Chapters 11 – 15.
Note: As this is a read along spoilers are gonna spoil ladies and gentlefolk. But it’s gonna be hella fun.
If you want to read along later go to Odyssey Books and get yourself a pre-order! Of course I want to extend a giant thanks to Emily at How the Crowe Flies (and Reads!) and the good people at Harper Collins.
Note Two: These posts are going to have all the language. But on the bright side, it’ll be colorful. Clean readers: This book is not for you.
Final Note: This post differs from many of those on The Steadfast Reader. (Of course it’s still fabulous.) But if it’s not your cup of tea, just know, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming, tomorrow. Also, a proper review (one less gushy and with fewer fangirl moments) will be published on the blog sometime in October. Read along continues every Monday until August 11, 2014.
In case you missed it!
How to Build a Girl – Part One
How to Build a Girl – Ch. 5 – 10
Little Dolly’s on a plane on a plane on a plane! Her unadulterated delight at the experience of flying just made me feel joyful.
Can we talk about her meeting John Kite? John Kite. Age: 24. “just a musician” wears furs, doesn’t come across as terribly physically attractive. I think that Johanna – not Dolly – is in the throes of her first crush. F’realz, y’all.
Good god, Ms. Moran. Isn’t that how first loves are built? Is Caitlin Moran secretly a time traveling psychic that tapped into my own teenage self? Two hours after meeting Kite, Johanna’s having this incredibly earnest and excited talk with herself in the mirror.
Now, let’s talk about John Kite. The age difference isn’t vast – seven years. (And let’s be honest, rock stars must be somewhat immature.) But I’m protective of our Johanna. Is he gaming her? Bullshitting her? Hitting on her? Am I okay with that? Right now, honestly, I’m not sure. If he’s gonna treat her right, if he’s for real, okay. I might be okay. I might need to sit down and discuss their relationship with him. He might require my permission.
But one further thing to consider. Are we seeing John Kite through the lens of a 17 year old girl in the throes of her first major crush? Her first love? In other words, is our narrator reliable?
Maybe. Back at the hotel for the interview. The late night sharing of every secret. Pulling a Norwegian Wood. Aw, man. I thought that Rainbow Rowell was the master of making middle-aged women remember the ecstasy and thrill of first love, but Moran just makes Eleanor & Park (which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt all the feels with) seem like a standard YA romance. Their whole night together is so heartfelt and innocent. I want them to get married and live happily ever after.
Kite comes through with the promised cassette, complete with letter. “I don’t want to wait another 24 years to meet you.” (p. 142) It gives me hope that maybe he’s not a weird douchebag rock star. Maybe he’s not like this with everyone. Maybe there’s a real connection. But I’m keeping my eye on you John Kite.
I feel happy for Johanna, because she finally seems to have shed some of her loneliness, she’s actually felt able to be just Johanna with someone. I’m hoping she’s realizing that Johanna has real worth and value. Jesus. Can you tell I’m a mom?
But life goes on.
So my heart broke, just a little bit, when Johanna returned from Dublin with her gift-wrapped Guinness for Dadda, she’s done it so specially for him, and she’s filled with such love and excitement when she gives it to him and then, the only reaction we get is: “Christ. That’s flat.” (p.141) I actually wrote a sad face next to that passage in my book.
She files the feature, “work dries up completely” and Johanna’s completely mystified.
Doesn’t it always feel subtle at the time? Jesus, she has it bad. The article that Johanna reads on p. 146 – 147 where Grant has an amazing night with Kite that Johanna is incredibly envious of makes me a bit suspicious of Kite. Does he do this with everyone? IS HE TOYING WITH OUR DOLLY?!
Okay. Let’s get to the deep important social commentary in this section.
Inevitably the bad news comes in. The Morrigan’s benefits have been cut by 11%.
Well, is it?
Moran does a killer job in bringing forward the problems with income inequality in this section. It’s bleak, depressing, in your face, and important. I have half the book highlighted. The problems that the Morriagan’s face with 11% less income is vastly different than the problems that would be faced by someone living on a median income.
As Moran points out the poor have no investments or savings to tide them over. Well maybe they should cut back on those little treats. The problem is, that there aren’t any little treats to cut back on because there never were really any to begin with. Jesus, man, why can’t they just borrow from family and friends? Because there’s no one to borrow from. “…for one of the truths about the poor is that they tend only to know other poor people.” p. 150
Guys. GUYS. Just stop right here. I know we’re not all in the U.S., and I totally don’t want to go crazy political here, but this statement spoke to me so much about the constant bickering that we seem to have going on in Washington on how to deal with our own benefits. Allowing unemployment insurance to lapse, cutting back on food stamp benefits, all that shit affects people in very real ways and that’s is extraordinarily easy to forget in the comfort of my nicely furnished living room with my Macbook Pro and my middle to upper middle class income. Moran brings this right to the front of the story and makes it very personal.
Looking past the female masturbation, the feminism, and all the other fabulous topics, if all those things were absent from this book – it would still be incredibly important in the way that it connects you with the characters and makes you stop and think, really think, about the realities of being truly poor in a first world country. In my little diatribe here I’m going to jump ahead to pages 155 – 156 where Johanna is reading Tony Rich’s interview with John Kite (coincidence?) and the thoughts he has on wealth, poverty, and politics. (As usual) I want to just quote the whole damned paragraph, but I’m exercising restraint here. Just a few quick quotes to really think about then we’ll leave it.
Jesus. Right on, man.
Okay, enough of that for now. Except that Johanna’s 11th birthday (p. 158 – 159) is so freakin’ sad.
I want to note, in defense of all their faults, that Johanna’s parents, despite the cuts in benefits, they still insist that she saves. They’re still concerned about her future. In a nice quiet way, I like to think that this is Moran’s way of saying that parent’s are people too, we have our faults and shittiness during childrearing, but in the end – if you’re trying to love the hell out of your kid, you’re probably not Joan Crawford.
Naturally, we’re treated to more wanking. Poor Krissi catches Johanna masturbating and promptly asks for his own room. “I have wanked him awake over weeks of Satanic fantasies.” (p. 167) I really feel like there should be a little more mortification on her part, but, well… there you are.
Speaking of satanic fantasies, I laughed a lot during this part. Apparently books on witchcraft are just a guise that libraries use to hide their satanic pornography. Who knew? All the imagery here. Johanna masturbating thinking of nuns having sex with the devil. Succubi, Incubi, etc.
There is for sure some feminist commentary going on here. But maybe we’ll talk about it another time.
The call comes in from D&ME, they want Dolly back. Off to London!
Dolly makes the executive decision to start drinking and smoking right there at the magazine, for the first time, right in front of all of her colleagues. Dolly perceives that the “boozy rock child”(p. 172) is going over much better than the girl quoting musicals. Nooooooooo Johanna! That girl quoting musicals is so good enough and much less self destructive.
Her colleagues nail her down on why her feature on Kite was so bad, it’s that it was too fannish. They’re critics not fans. (p. 175) Dolly takes the advice to heart, advice that maybe, perhaps, tenderly, some bloggers might take to heart as well? Just a little? 🙂
Of course when she hears that Kite is going to be at the industry party, she opts in to go. There’s a sweet moment on p. 183, where Dolly is smoking backwards and Kite ever so gently corrects her. I want there to be hope for her crush! But, inevitably, he must leave early, (very Cinderella), leaving Johanna with a lingering goodbye kiss and crushing disappointment that he’s leaving so soon. (p. 184 – 185)
Also with raging teenage girl hormones. Enter Tony Rich D&ME’s STAR CRITIC. Harvard educated, exotic, he’s been to America! Johanna sees him as incredibly clever and incredibly vicious. Incidentally, she also realizes he’s incredibly hot. “A tall boy with a big mouth and very pale skin, whose eyes are as clever as rockets – guns – the sun – and the exact color of Coca-Cola.” (p. 186)
By the end of chapter 15 I think that we’ve seen a distinct emergence of Dolly Wilde. Boozing at the office. Smoking, drinking, flirting. Mad for kisses, mad for mouths. Trouble.
That’s pretty much a wrap for this week, kids. But of course I want to leave you with some Jerry Springer-like final thoughts. So I made a graphic for you. From about page 171, we have Johanna’s thoughts on how to build a girl and put her out in the world. Oh! Misguided youth!
Well, Readers? How are we all feeling now? This section was heavy especially on the topic of poverty. There’s also a lot of commentary to be had on feminism and the expectations of that society places on women (and girls) and that they impute to themselves. But in the interest of length I’ve chose to focus on the poverty/welfare elements here. Hopefully some of my #moranalongers will pick up the slack on the other issues. Thoughts? Feelings? Diatribes?