ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In Britain, Caitlin Moran is well-known for his bawdy columns in The London Times. She writes about music, sex and television, as well as class and gender. And now she has a new novel. It's called "How To Build A Girl." Here's critic Ellah Allfrey with a review.
ELLAH ALLFREY, BYLINE: The story opens in 1990 in Wolverhampton, a city in the English West Midlands. Johanna Morrigan is 14. Her father is an unemployed would-be rock star. Her mother is suffering from depression, and Johanna has to look after her younger siblings. She has dreams of popularity, love, fame and recognition of her hidden talents. But, living in a working-class family in a deprived neighborhood with few prospects, she's not quite sure how to achieve these ambitions.
Joanna decides it's up to her to make some money. She will reinvent herself - become the person she knows she was meant to be. (Reading) I want to be a self-made woman. I want to conjure myself out of every sparkling, fast-moving thing I can see, she declares. (Reading) I want to be the creator of me. I'm going to begat myself.
This, then, is how to build a girl - find a cause, identify your image, let nothing stand in your way.
This novel is easy to read, and not just because of the scrappy protagonist. Johanna christens herself Dolly Wilde and lands a job as a freelance music journalist. She travels to London, has lots of sex and drugs and rock 'n roll. It's a fast-paced tale of a working-class girl whose way with words ensures her success.
Moran uses Dolly's life to make strong statements about gender and social inequality. Even as she finds her way into womanhood, Dolly is consumed by self-doubt and a negative body image. Moran never loses touch with what seemed to me an authentic and believable teenage voice. It's sometimes too breathless and overexcited, but as any mother who has despaired of the constant gasping, sighing and O-M-G-ing will tell you, this, too, is true to life.
By the end of the book Dolly has survived several reckless adventures, broken relationships and the music of the early '90s. She's on her way to reinventing herself again as she moves to London permanently. But this is no tidy happily-ever-after, thank goodness. Instead, Moran leaves the reader with the sense that once a girl takes responsibility for building herself, there's always more to learn. The job is never done. She is a glorious work in progress.
SIEGEL: The book is "How To Build A Girl" by Caitlin Moran. Our review came from Ellah Allfrey.
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