On the Demon Bookshelf: How To Build A Girl

Caitlin Moran is currently one of the most prominent feminist writers in popular literature. Having previously read her semi-autobiographical work, How To Be A Woman, I bought How To Build A Girl expecting more of the same. Although the influence of the author’s upbringing and attitude are evident in the character of the protagonist, How To Build A Girl is more light-hearted and fictitious. The central character, Johanna Morrigan, is the awkward and slightly insecure teenage girl that lurks inside all women who are still finding themselves. For this reason, the protagonist is incredibly easy to relate to, and the story engulfs the reader before we quite have chance to notice.

“I’m a fat girl in a black waiter’s jacker and a blouse, holding hands with a ginger six-year-old wearing tiger ears and a tiger tail, who is looking at a perambulating pigeon and shouting ‘THE EAGLE IS COMING!’ very loudly.”

There is no subject Moran is too shy to address, from masturbation and the loss of the protagonist’s virginity, to shoplifting, and moving to London, alone. I read this book quite slowly – over a few days, and the story made me laugh, cringe, and glow. The sheer unabashed audacity of Moran when introducing us to Johanna, is impossible to dislike – even though you do frequently wish she’d leave out the odd swear word, or phrase a sentence a bit more delicately. The entire book is riddled with C-words and F-words and descriptions of “wanking”, but somehow is still completely lovable.



“I put on ‘Double Dare Ya’ by Bikini Kill, as loud as I can. ‘Yes, Peasants,’ my demeanour says. ‘I am blowing your mind. The day has come. No longer need you listen to Zucchero and Check 1-2 Featuring Craig McLachlan. I have brought you The Good Shit.”

Freakishly, my favourite part of Johanna’s journey takes place towards the end of her transition from awkward 14-year-old to reasonably mature young adult. She is in a bath, in a tutu, with cystitis, in the apartment of a ridiculously well-endowed man with whom she has just had sex. He gives her cranberry juice and codeine, and she cries until the pain goes away, and afterwards decides she is a grown woman, and will never again clean a man’s apartment. I found this whole situation hilarious, and having been in similarly awkward situations before (minus the tutu, codeine and cystitis), I related, and enjoyed Johanna’s attitude towards life.

How to build a girl

“We got to the gig an hour late – Kite coming through the doors in his fake fur coat like some fabulous, Welsh, pissed pimp-hustler. I was holding his hand. I banked every jealous look, and became limitlessly wealthy on them.”

Essentially, I adored every part of this book – even the profane parts. I identified with the protagonist and appreciated her journey, and was glad of her growing self-assurance. There aren’t nearly enough books like this – about strong, independent girls. I cannot recommend this enough. Please, please do yourself a favour, and snag a copy as soon as you can.


Verdict: 5/5 cups – “Like spicy, sweet chai when it’s cold outside”