I SO wanted to write a love letter for Caitlin Moran’s HOW TO BUILD A GIRL. Having heard so many good things about it, I was ready to enjoy it…and I really did. It was funny, poignant, brilliant, even. I loved Johanna Morrigan as much as I liked her alter-ego Dolly Wilde, and loved her family like they were long-lost relatives. From the moment Johanna and her siblings innocently killed the snails, to her appearance on TV wearing her father’s jeans, I thought this was a heart-wrenching, hilarious, honest story. I wanted to know more. I wanted to love Johanna straight through to her Dolly Wilde days of drugs, sex, and heartbreak. And in most ways, I really did.
It was only after that I was disappointed.
If you haven’t read this book yet, Johanna Morrigan’s life begins in a cramped Council house, with a handful of siblings, and her larger-than-life parents. Moran really gets these people. She writes them with confidence, humour and without shame. And that’s what makes them wonderful. At fourteen, it’s clear that Johanna understands her life isn’t going to be much different unless she can find a path to take her out of there. And she does–writing for a local music magazine using the name Dolly Wilde.
While taking on the persona of someone who should be involved in the music business, Morrigan’s Wilde is everything the name implies…..carefree, bold, wild. She quits school to follow her dream, and really, nothing is denied this girl and her scathing pen. While reading about Wilde’s antics as she bed-hopped, went to concerts, and connected with musicians, there were many genuine moments where, as a reader, we knew Wilde was purposely avoiding the truth–that she was worth so much more than what she was doing. It took her a while, but she got there. As a reader, I must say I felt the same way.
It wasn’t until after I finished this book and started to follow up (because when you read something this good, you want more), that I realized the controversy surrounding Ms. Moran. HOW TO BUILD A GIRL is not aimed at the YA audience, in fact, and is marketed as adult fiction. Why? The book is about a 14 year old girl and her journey to figure out who she is? That didn’t make any sense to me. Until I read that Moran had dissed the YA audience by proclaiming she wrote the book because there were no strong female teenage characters who weren’t just there to love vampires or werewolves.
In retaliation, the YA community took to Twitter to show Moran that there were PLENTY of great YA female characters who weren’t saving the world, or falling for supernatural creatures. It seems as though she may have stopped reading books beyond the Twilight stage.
And to make matters worse, when I went to her original best-seller, the autobiographical HOW TO BE A WOMAN, I was surpised to find many of the same ideas presented in this book…almost line for line. Huh. Line for line? So now, it made me wonder why she didn’t try to market HOW TO BUILD A GIRL to the YA audience. Instead, she marketed a very similar book under a different title, to the same audience.
If I hadn’t started the original book, or done any online research about Ms.Moran, this would have been a love letter, for sure. Maybe even my favourite book of the year so far, but it’s funny how easily something can be tainted by a careless remark.
Note to authors, be true to yourself, but not by trying to make others appear less worthy. We’re all in this together. Share the love, please.