04 August 2014

Caitlin Moran Readalong: How to Build a Girl part something-or-other

Hi, everybody! It's the fourth week of our pre-publication discussion of Caitlin Moran's upcoming novel, How to Build a Girl.  Through the generosity of HarperCollins, Moran's publisher in the US, we've all been given access to the book, and if our blogposts (or accompanying GIFs) pique your interest, then consider pre-ordering the book here.  Please beware that all of our posts will be spoilerific.

Okay, y'all. I inadvertently spoiled some of you last week because I got confused where the reading was supposed to end.  VERY sorry about all of that.  This week I'm copping out a bit because it's inventory at my store, and I'm working veddy long hours (12 Sunday, up to 15 on Monday), so I'm going to take a lot of what I said last week and just say it again. 

I dog-eared more pages in this book than any other book I can recall reading.  In fact, I took a photo of my book to share with you. And those are just the top edges.  Often there were parts on the verso/recto of the same page, so I dogeared the bottom pages for those circumstances.  I also made lots of pencil brackets in the margins for the parts I liked best, and many pages have multiple brackets. 

I don't usually abuse my books this much
I'm not saying that there aren't great YA books out there that deal with all kinds of tough things (death, suicide, divorce, break-ups, cutting, eating disorders, bullying, etc), But where are the frank explorations of sex and sexuality? Why, as a reading culture, are we still so collectively hung up on virginity? Why do parents not care if their daughters are reading about killing other children in ritual games, but they don't want them reading about sex? And why should feminism have to be defended amidst the pop culture against idiots like Shailene Woodley and Taylor Swift, who frankly do not understand the privilege they were born to?

There is definitely something about Moran's book that lends itself to the humourous gifs that we've been using each week, but I almost don't want to use any because I fear they will distract from its importance. You see, this is a book that fills a gap that has been open in literature for a long time.  This is coming of age like we've not seen in a long time, if ever -- it's the equivalent for older teens of Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, the book that set the bar for the genre in 1970 when it was published, but which has become all but irrelevant for the last two decades.  But because Moran is writing for adults, there are no holds barred, which is not always the case in the world of YA, and therefore gets down to the nitty-gritty.  The fact that it's interlaced with social commentary about the class system? Well, that's pure gravy.

It's the story I wish I had been able to read when I was in my early twenties (I was a much later bloomer than Daisy/Johanna), and it's told in a language and style I wish I was brave enough to use myself. And if it had been available to me when I was a teenager, I think there's an excellent chance my life would have taken different direction.  As it is, reading this book in my forties is still an utter revelation. In other words, this book is 100% my jam.
You betcha.  It's also a fucking book.
Johanna spends this section still in love with John Kite, honing her skills as a writer, learning how to have sex, and learning how to be mean and snarky in print. We follow Caitlin Johanna/Dolly through her first kiss, her first sexual experience, and the various levels of professional self-assuredness that she climbs.  She spend quite a lot of time on an episode when she sleeps with a man with a large cock and the recovery thereof. Lots of puns in this section, but it also left me curiously prurient.  I mean, just exactly how big was this Big Cock?  Are we talking length and girth here? 

In the end, she learns the  difference between cynicism and just being plain mean. She tries for so long to be edgy and hard that it takes a disaster to make her realize that 
"It is a million times easier to be cynical and wield a sword than it is to be open-hearted and stand there, holding a balloon and a birthday cake, with the infinite potential to look foolish. Because I still don't know what I really think or deel, and I'm throwing grenades and filling the air with smoke while I desperately, desperately try to get off the ground: to get elevation. Because I haven't learned the simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable. So just be kind."
Amen.  Be kind, indeed. I don't believe I'll use any more gifs, because that's the note I'd like to end on.  This book is so damned funny that it's easy to forget the hard truths that it drives home. 

P.S.   Swashfuckler. That is an excellent word. I will never not laugh when I see it or think it.
Just like that. But with a different kind of sword.
I guess I lied about not using any more gifs.
P. S. Please don't forget to leave a comment here and when you visit other bloggers' pages.  It's fun to keep the discussion going that way, and I've noticed that not everybody comments on every participant's post.  Basically, please readalong well with others!


  1. I agree and that maybe why I found this part more upsetting. She's craving some attention and not getting it so what does she turn to.... Sex. And it's happening all the time with our children.

  2. I agree with all you say about this being a coming-of-age story, and as I'm just coming out of the stage of parenthood that involves raising teens, I laugh myself silly when I hear some parent trying to keep their precious teenager "innocent" as long as possible. That said, and maybe it's a maternal streak in me, I squirmed through some of this section. I thought it went a bit overboard, and I can't help but worry that Johanna is setting herself up for some sexual disasters--not to mention disease/pregnancy/etc since there's very little attention paid to prevention. I know I sound like a priss :-) but I can't help but worry that Johanna is going to get herself hurt in even worse ways than Large Cock Guy could.

  3. Yes to the YES about the unconcern when it comes to violence but sex is totally taboo, why?! It makes me think of the quote from the South Park movie:

    "Remember what the MPAA says; Horrific, Deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don't say any naughty words! That's what this war is all about!"

    Though more about censorship of language rather than sex - I think it can apply both ways.

  4. Even though you say it right in your intro, I was still like "Wait, is this last week's post? Have I mixed up the weeks?" Need more coffee.

    ANYWAY poor Johanna and that scene with the giant dick and at least she had a good sense of humor about it. Once she got past some of the agony.

    I'm sort of worried what section 3 has in store but I am HOPEFUL it's not going to be a bunch of "Johanna drank and had sex and here are all of the terrible things that are happening to her now" even though I'm pretty sure that won't happen cos this is Moran here and she's great.

  5. Also sorry if I haven't been playing well with others. Test prep, etc. It''s all over now so I'm TOTALLY PRESENT :)

  6. HI! HI! I'm here and posted both weeks because I suck.

    I agree with you that this book would have changed my perspective a bit as a teenager, and that teens need to learn more about sex, and that I would like more details about this Al person, please. One thing I didn't touch on was how there is no manual for this, so we girls mostly figure it out on our own, and then realize later that physical disconnect is a thing. THAT moment made me stop and stare for awhile, TBH. I spent most of my life learning that I should just get through it so my partner would be happy, if he was happy I was happy,etc. etc., and there's a NAME for that thing? A kind of scary name that implies I'm not present in my own skin? Huh.

    Gonna need to have a think about that.

  7. "And why should feminism have to be defended amidst the pop culture against idiots like Shailene Woodley and Taylor Swift, who frankly do not understand the privilege they were born to?" YES OMG YES. Both lovely girls...but so very uninformed.

    I was watching a documentary the other day called Unhung Hero, about a guy who's girlfriend turned down his public proposal because she thought his penis was "too small." And Al got me thinking about that, because we as a culture are so hung up on penis size (I think it's the closest thing to breast size for dudes), and I don't KNOW...over-large penises are sort of terrifying in practice. Like...how is that...gonna work? Johanna was very brave, and she paid dearly for it, poor lass.


    Blogger has consistently eaten comments I've written over the past two weeks, and I still haven't learned my lesson and copied them before hitting publish. So apologies to any blogs missing comments from me, I've been and seen your posts, and I've commented but half the time they've just vanished attempt after attempt.

    *throws computer over cliff*

  9. Oh my goddddddd, why are we so hung up on virginity? I feel like, if there's a teenager in a book, and they're thinking about having sex, it's the biggest deal in the world and they're virgins and they basically do it once and it's giant. Whereas, in this, it's basically like 'oh, sex! It's good! I will do it ALL THE TIME.'

    Basically what I'm saying is, yes. This is quite an important book, I think.

    1. Because actually-literally PATRIARCHY. If familial designation follows the mother, virginity is less important because it doesn't matter so much who did the impregnating.

      Changing this attitude toward virginity is an important step in breaking down those antiquated cultural doxa, so I agree with you 100%. This is an important book.


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