Book club: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Our book for September 2016 is…. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran.

We’re really looking forward to talking about this book, why don’t you join us?

Front cover of Caitlin Moran's How to Build a GirlWe feel sure that this lively semi-autobiographical novel by Caitlin Moran will provoke some strong reactions and so without doubt, there will be lots to discuss.

We will post up some key points about the book to reflect on as the month progresses and in the meantime, please get reading.  Feel free to jump into the discussion about the book at any time during the month using Disqus which is ready and waiting for you and shows up at the bottom of this page – its free to sign up and once you are logged in, you can comment at will on the Henpicked website.

Please share news of our newly launched Henpicked book club with your friends and encourage them to sign up and join our conversation. We welcome you all and remember there is no right or wrong with reading – everyone’s opinion counts.

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From the Henpicked team!

  • Imogen Jamieson

    can’t wait to get reading and then to discuss this book……

  • Deborah Garlick

    I’ve downloaded mine ready. I like Caitlin Moran’s articles and columns but not read one of her books, so looking forward to it.

  • Deborah Garlick

    Read the first couple of chapters, covers so much of what goes through a young woman’s mind. Finding the context of the 80s environment a bit of a step back in time, most I’d not thought about for ages.

  • Deborah Garlick

    Really grateful that my 70s/80s life as a teenager was more about dressing up as a new romantic and my biggest problem was whether I could stretch my spending money to 3 nights out. Johanna really had it tough both at home and in her social life. No comment about the Mum bottle!!!

  • Imogen Jamieson

    I wanted to love this book and although I felt that it raised some really interesting issues, it is not a book that I will read again and I was quite happy to come to the end of it!
    The things I liked are these:
    The relationship between father and daughter and sister and brother. Johanna’s love and sense of duty and responsibility towards her family were really well drawn.There seemed to be a reversal in relationship between Johanna and her parents (she was their carer and protector at times) and this was echoed by Krissi who acted as a stabilising constant to Johanna and gave her completely unconditional love throughout.
    Krissi is a great character, I liked him a lot!
    The teenage angst was well written – all that uncertainty and discovery and although I didn’t really warm to Johanna, I did admire her self-motivation and determination enormously. I felt that her re-creation of herself did not bring her what she thought it would but I enjoyed the fact that she becomes much more confident and ends the book positively, having learnt from her experiences.
    I also enjoyed the relationship between John Kite and Johanna.
    I loathed all the sexual stuff! I found it really uncomfortable – particularly the masturbation scenes. To me, they jarred and were just written in for sensationalism and didn’t add at all.
    I don’t remember the music scene of the time and so that was lost on me!
    It’s not a book I would recommend. I found it interesting and many of the issues are relevant for teens today but for me the book is a snapshot of one girl (albeit an exceptionally proactive one) in the 1980s and nothing more. Would love to know what others thought……

    • Sue Mason

      Hi Imogen. I’ve read part one and thought it was a good scene setter. Like you, I was prepared to love this book but have not yet got to the point where I find I can’t put it down. Lots of well written teenage angst so far and I’m looking forward to Johanna’s re-invention. How are other people finding it?

      • Imogen Jamieson

        I am not sure Sue but like you, I am very much looking forward to hearing how others have enjoyed the book. Although it will never be one of my favourites, I do think that there are lots of points of interest. Johanna’s gutsy pursuit of her independence and self discovery were well drawn and there are some great comic moments in the book.

        • Sue Mason

          So I’ve now finished the book. I think it’s brilliantly written but I’m going to buck the trend and say it wasn’t really a book I enjoyed. Like you Imogen, I think Johanna’s gutsy pursuit of her future was really well portrayed. I think it was all the teenage angst/ self absorption as a topic that just didn’t end up enthralling me.

          It was good to read something different. It’s not one I’d recommend to my mum, but I think my 20-something niece would enjoy it. I think it captured the atmosphere of the 80s really well – joss sticks, discovery of Indie bands and life before the Internet certainly reminded me of student years. Probably not an author I’d race to read in the future.

          • Imogen Jamieson

            definitely a bit of nostalgia in it for me too Sue! Not that I remember the music scene but life before the internet was very different to the world children are growing up in now. I hate to think how Johanna would have been ricocheting if her every move had been documented on social media. I think Johanna had a hard time then but I think its even more difficult for teens today in some respects

      • Deborah Garlick

        Di, has commented on Facebook – she can’t put it down. Looking forward to Johanna’s reinvention.

    • Caroline Exley

      I’m still working my way through and I do like the self talk in the early part, that feeling that you think you know everything at that age and that everything seems like a good idea! I remember that well. Have to be honest though I don’t think I would have read this without the book club and whilst I don’t dislike the book it doesn’t have the draw of one I can’t put down. I’ll comment again when I’ve reached the end!

  • Marion

    I am ploughing on through this but I don’t like it . I don’t like it because the reviews ‘hyped ‘ it up and it’s like the emperor’s new clothes. I feel that it’s pretentious and that Moran is daring us to not be ‘on trend’ and rave about it . She knows it’s all overdone and quite ridiculous but knows that no one dares say so . But reading your comments, we are different!

    • Imogen Jamieson

      Hi Marion, I am really interested by your comments and would love you to elaborate! Are you saying that you feel Caitlin Moran wrote the book knowing that it was vastly over exaggerated and is therefore seeking challenge from others to qualify what she has said? I certainly feel that she writes for sensationalism and reaction. When you reach the end of the book, it would be fabulous to hear further from you about it! I always enjoy hearing what others think about books and love a good discussion!

      • Marion

        I have finished it now and it hasn’t endeared itself to me. I can’t believe any 16 year old thinks like this and they certainly don’t talk like this – ‘vutriplitive’ – really !!! It was overdone in terms of explitives and overburdened with incest, bisexuality, drugs, alcohol , smoking , self harm , STDs , you name it, it was there. Moran is not a bold journalist , daring to tackle everything, rather a writer aiming to shock. If I had written it an editor would have called it ‘over done’ and ‘ridiculous ‘. It was sad and funny in places and I did catch myself using ‘Wilde’ phrases but I do hate being mocked !

  • I read it through and I didn’t dislike it but I can’t say it’s a book I would bother reading a second time- or go to find others by the same author. Not a strong response really.
    I did grow up in the 80’s and I clearly had a very sheltered life – there was far too much detail on the masturbation and sexual side for a child her age that felt unnecessary and over done. As for hiding in a cupboard to discuss the details of her sexual encounters with an older brother… it was a little strange to say the least. Am I the only one who didn’t have this kind of relationship with my brothers?
    I did feel the family relationship with the father, the long-suffering mother and siblings generally was really well done. You could feel and relate to the love between them all.

  • Jeanne Ellin

    Not a book I would have sought out and now not an author I would seek out again but the anguish of being bullied, of poor self esteem and body image and self harm, sexual expectations, consent mutual pleasure all much tougher for young people today with social media and internet pornography but it would make a good starting point for discussing these topics with young people

  • Caroline Exley

    I’ve now finished the book. As I said before, I don’t think I would have chosen this book myself. That said I was determined to finish it. I did find reading it more of a chore than a pleasure at times although I did chuckle at one or two things. Ultimately I felt sorry for Johanna for, in my opinion, getting it wrong around sexual relationships and her desire to stand out from the crowd through her work. I did feel there was some content which could be related to, for example inexperience leading to poor choices. There seemed very little between Johanna and her Mother, maybe things would have been different with stronger adult guidance and support. I did like the ending, the feeling that she’d been on the journey and learnt from it (as we all do) Ultimately, showing there is an opportunity to re-invent yourself.

    • Imogen Jamieson

      I agree with so much you say about this book Caroline. I did feel that there was a closeness between Johanna and her mother but I think her mother was just exhausted from the strains of living with a dreamer and the shock arrival of her twins and (like many of us) just couldn’t cope with everything she had to deal with. Do you think she had some sort of post natal depression? I did wonder about this myself.

      • Caroline Exley

        Oh yes I would think depression, post natal or otherwise, would have had a huge impact on the Mother. Understandable give the full picture!

        • Imogen Jamieson

          as I have said before, I didn’t really enjoy this book but the more I think about it and read the comments of others, the more things I think of that I like about it!