How to Build a Girl: Part I (Read Along)

Posted 14 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

How To Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran 
Read Along! Part One.

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.

Guys. Guuuuyyyssssss…. I’m freaking loving this book. I don’t want to get all fangirl-y, but I’m about ready to go out and buy Caitlin Moran’s entire catalogue.

I did a shitty job introducing myself in the introduction posts. I’m April. 32. Married. Owner of one three year old girl. American.

So! Part One. How are we feeling? (Another random note – I have a weird desire to use ONLY RuPaul Drag Race gifs during this read along. I may or may not make that happen.)

Let me show you how I’m feeling.
I mean, this book opens on a fourteen year old girl masturbating. After getting over my initial shock and reading on, I stop to reflect. Is Moran doing this for shock value? Maybe. But more importantly is this how fourteen year old girls behave? Yep. (Oh dear lord, the sordid usage of  the “Mum” brand hairbrush at the beginning of chapter 3? I was having fits.) 
So what’s so important about Johanna and her constant obsession with her first kiss, masturbation, and sex in general? Because it’s so totally and completely normal. And let the record show that there’s nothing graphic in Johanna’s masturbation, just a statement that it’s happening. And that it’s happening a lot.
I’m about to go out on a feminist tangent here – but stay with me. We joke about hormones of teenage boys (and grown men) and normalize male masturbation and preoccupation with sex. (What’s the old adage, a man thinks about sex every seven seconds?) Well newsflash world! The ladies like the sex and the masturbation as well. 
Johanna’s open and honest thoughts and views on her hormones and masturbation are not only accurate, Moran renders them hysterical. 

Show me a woman that didn’t feel this way at fourteen, whose hormones weren’t completely raging and out of control, and I will show you an Amish woman. (No offense to the Amish. In fact, it’s possible that the Amish have these feelings as well, what else are you going to do without electricity?) Johanna is not the idealized sexless girl, rabidly defending her virginity that is the norm in much literature (and media) of all stripes. Johanna is real. She wants to have her first kiss. She wants to experience THE SEX and I love her for that.
Moving on. There are at least two other episodes in the early chapters of part one that were so funny, so absurd, that we MUST talk about them.
First. Ian a.ka. Rock Perry. The cock. The future. This whole weird misunderstanding between Rock Perry (Ian) and Johanna’s delusional, child-like, dead beat father – thinking he’s going to save the family by finally selling that demo and becoming the rich and famous middle-aged rock star, with wife and five kids. After Dadda blows up at Rock (deep and important meaning in that misunderstood pseudonym? You tell me, Reader.) Johanna’s mother takes the practiced air of trying to appease just one more ‘future’ by saddling him with a bunch of six bananas… to the confusion of practically everyone. (p. 8 – 9) 
I found this exchange so absurd, so crazy that I nearly spit my tea across the room. The sheer insanity of the whole situation was enough to get me giggling uncontrollably. I’m not sure what it means (other than Dadda is a man-child and Johanna’s mother is long suffering), but I for sure know that it’s funny. 
Second. Where the nurse mistakes Johanna as the mother of the unnamed twins. Can we begin by the absolutely brilliant way that Moran describes post-partum depression?  
Just. Freakin’. NAILED IT, Moran. NAILED. IT.
But the subsequent misunderstanding where it takes the nurse several paragraphs to realize (in Maury Povich style) that Johanna is NOT the FATHER MOTHER! I adore. There’s just something about that whole exchange is fantastically hysterical. 

“The horror dawned on me like . . . nuclear.” (p. 20)

Then the juxtaposition with poor Johanna’s virginity? Priceless.

Imma gonna keep going, at least a little bit longer. But let’s move to major plot points. Johanna’s fateful visit with her best and newest friend, her only friend – 72 year old Violet. After a poor judgment call of telling Violet that her family is on benefits, Johanna realizes how grave the mistake is. (p. 33) Damnable people. With Violet getting all Judgy-McJudgerson, I really couldn’t help but be reminded of the national debate that we just had are constantly having here in the U.S. about food stamps. But more on that later. (In another post.)

This dreadful error, also highly relatable in that I think in moments of frustration many teenage girls spill family secrets that they have no business spilling and then go into total panic mode. Her deal with Jesus (not to wank for six months – oh, the humanity!) feels like something my fourteen year old self would offer up in exchange for supernatural intervention. Then, nine terrible days later – Johanna breaks the deal and knows she’s in trouble. All variations on the theme that teenage girls have hormones too and are not the chaste Disney Princesses that the world would like them to be. Love it.

Her fantasies on what will happen, how her parents will react, when they find she, their beloved Johanna will be the cause of their impending doom remind me of the fantasies that pre-pubescent Ralph from A Christmas Story has on a variety of topics. (Aside: Next to Bill Murray’s Scrooged, A Christmas Story, is one of the few Christmas movies I can tolerate. Bah! Humbug!)

But this fear and teenage assuredness that as the center of the universe she is going to be solely responsible for the downfall of her family (never mind Dadda is kind of a deadbeat man-child and Mom hasn’t even named the twins) are the catalyst for the rest of the book.

I love Moran’s accurate and heartbreaking rendering of what society’s unrealistic beauty standards do to a girl.

“Because my biggest secret of all – the one I would rather die than tell, the one I wouldn’t even put in my diary – is that I really, truly, in my heart, want to be beautiful. I want to be beautiful so much – because it will keep me safe, and keep me lucky, and it’s too exhausting not to be.” (p.53)

What Johanna and most fourteen year old girls fail to realize is that beauty isn’t the answer. I can’t wait to see if she learns that hard fact of life in Part Two.

One more scene. Then I’m going to wrap this up, promise. After winning the poetry contest (see, that’s wholesome.) Johanna gets to appear on a regional(?) talk show. She’s a bundle of teenage nerves and insecurities, that even in my thirties I find myself relating to. Every awkward joke, (“It would be inappropriate for us to go on a date, Alan.” p. 54) all the anxiety about her looks, and perhaps the most powerfully amusing part of the interview; Johanna is trying to please the host, the audience. She’s trying too hard as fourteen year old girls are wont to do. (Hell, as thirty year old women are wont to do.) In an attempt to fill what Johanna perceives to be an awkward silence she launches into the nature of her friendship with her dog.

Moran’s visual here just made me laugh like a madwoman. God, don’t we all hate those awkward silences? Especially during a live interview? (Or an in-person conversation if you’re a bit of an introvert like me?) I’m also apt to start talking nonsense if you let that awkward silence go on long enough. Again. Oh, the humanity.

That’s an awkward way to fill a silence gap if I’ve ever heard one.

I basically just want to quote the whole book. Maybe Moran is looking for an American lady to create an annotated version of How to Build a Girl? Annotated with all the parts that are insanely funny to this one American lady? Probably not? C’est la vie. I think it would sell. One more quote for the road.

So question, fellow Readers. Do Mom and Dadda have actual names that I have missed? I hope not because I like the idea of nameless parents. After all, this is Johanna’s story and in the mind of a fourteen year old girl, parents are parents. Not people.

So far, even though it’s dealing with the sexuality and hormones of a fourteen year old girl it lacks the creep factor of Lolita or even Tampa because there’s no sexual abuse present. (Unless you consider masturbation to be self abuse – which clearly, I do not.)

What do you think, Reader? I can’t wait to see the posts of my fellow read along-ers. If you’re not currently reading along but read this post anyway, what do you think? Does this look appealing? See you back again next week for the second installation of How to Build a Girl!

April @ The Steadfast Reader



33 Responses to “How to Build a Girl: Part I (Read Along)”

  1. So, we pretty much had the EXACT SAME reading experience. Rock Perry was my absolute favorite, it was just amazing – my husband thought I was insane. And “four better than Mary” is still makes me laugh.

  2. Sarah Says Read

    SO much of this book is so quotable! I love it. I want to quote all the things.

    The Scooby Doo incident… good lord! I laughed, and I also felt SO bad for her, because we’ve all had those moments of knowing we should shut the hell up but then proceed to make giant asses out of ourselves. Poor girl. She’ll get over it, I’m sure.

    Oh, and will someone name those damn twins already! Poor things. How did she get them home from the hospital without naming them? Or is it different in the UK maybe? Hmmm…

  3. readingrambo

    Dude, I like your quote images. They are NIFTY.

    Forgot about the Mum hairbrush thing. And the bananas. Ohh the bananas and him hiding in the bushes waiting for the bus after he left. This book is basically the greatest.

    • Thanks! It’s how I cope with desperately trying to avoiding studying for the bar exam which is in [checks watch] fourteen days. I did them for next week too. ๐Ÿ˜‰ PicMonkey is borderline magic.

      I forgot about him hiding in the bushes! Now I’m giggling again. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Emily Crowe

    YOU WIN THE PRIZE THIS WEEK. This is the best for its lengthy discussion and explication and basically hitting on the awesome EVERYTHINGNESS that was in section one. So well done, you.

  5. This totally makes me want to read the book! At the same time, I’ve been stuck on a book for going on 3 weeks that should have taken 2 hours to read. That’s what happens when you read 2 pages a day. Sigh. So I think I’ll just read your read-a-long.

    Side note: The Christmas Story is AWESOME. I find a way to slip a quote into conversation nearly every week. Other than that, yeah, most Christmas movies can suck it.

    • Boom! I just found the worst part of living in Paris, you don’t get 24 hours of a Christmas Story on TBS on Christmas day… how do you cope? ๐Ÿ™‚

      What book are you reading now? Regardless, you should totally read this book. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • We get 24 hours of champagne, so that helps ๐Ÿ™‚

        I’m reading “Big Macs in Paris”, which is – surprise – another Paris-based book. I’ve been on a French kick lately but I think I need to expand. Maybe that’s why (aside from the kids!) I’ve been reading so slowly? Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. I love your enthusiasm! I know I’ve really been blown away by how good this has been so far. Moran is just refreshingly honest and hilarious and always find the perfect way to put say the true things which so often get swept under the rug.

    • Yes! You’ve just encapsulated what I love about the whole thing. Stuff that needs to be said, but (for whatever reason) is hard to talk about – she just does fantastically. At times I feel like I’m too enthusiastic, so thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Kaylee E

    You win for mining all the best quotes from this section!

    And dang for the discussion on female sexuality/masturbation, I just sat here nodding furiously at my computer. But oh my god I forgot the part with the mum’s hairbrush, I just snorted with laughter when I remembered that.

    • Just call me the Quote Miner’s Daughter. Loretta Lynn? Anyone? See why I’m relating to Johanna? ๐Ÿ™‚

      The Mum hairbrush was probably one of the funniest parts of the whole section, I just couldn’t figure out a way to distill it down enough to explain, so I let it lie. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Rayna

    I tried so hard to talk about the banana-bushel-as-consolation-prize scene in my post but couldn’t figure out how to describe it properly so non-readalongers would be amused, and I failed utterly. You have succeeded. That was the first moment when I laughed out loud in this book, and when I started to really enjoy it.

    A+ GIF selection this week – I like that you themed them.

  9. Alley


    This book. This book is SO GOOD and we’ve only just begun. But seriously, every scene you talked about, every quote, A+. You win


      I was going to go with RuPaul (because RuPaul is freaking amazing) throughout the entire readalong, but I decided it might be more interesting to branch out. Next week (spoiler!) it’s all Veep. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Oh man, you reminded me of a highlight of my grandfather’s estate auction (we all cope with loss in our own ways). He lived in rural Michigan, and a lot of Amish came to the auction, and there was this one in his mid-20s, and he was…well, VERY attractive if you don’t mind beards and DO have a thing for suspenders. And if the movie “Witness” is any indication, the Amish have sexual needs, too. So there you go.

    I highly enjoyed your post this week. Onward, and here’s to more wanking (probably)!

    • FUTILE!! This post isn’t too spoiler-y as the first section is really just the set up for the rest of the book. I think a few of the other people in this readalong noted that most of what was in this section could be gleaned from the back cover. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think I’m on that tour too, so I’ll write a proper review then. ๐Ÿ™‚