Monday, July 14, 2014

How to build a girl: Post the First

Thanks again to our gentle leader, Emily, for hosting this readalong. If you are State-side don't forget to pre-order this book from her at Odyssey Bookstore.

And on the off chance Caitlin Moran got lost and somehow stumbled into this blogpost, HI! And I am so sorry for the terrible puns and gifs that I will probably be using to discuss your book. SO SORRY.


This book kicks off with a fingerbang* doesn't it!

Yes I went there. No I'm not sorry. Okay, maybe a little sorry.

But in all seriousness, it does deal with a hell of a lot in these first 4 chapters. We meet Johanna, who is from a huge family and dreams of a different life, a better life, where she isn't as lonely as she is now. She takes care of her siblings because her dad is, in the nicest possible way, hopeless and her mum is dealing with post-partum depression. Poor Johanna is that kind of teenager that I read about and makes me all kinds of squirmy and awkward because I absolutely recognise my own teen awkwardness in her, even if mine was on a slightly different trajectory to hers.

I think the book, so far anyway, is doing a really good job of setting Johanna up as both unique and completely typical in her awkwardness/introspection. Yes she's maybe on the more extreme end, but I imagine almost everyone (if not actually everyone) taking part in this readalong could relate to a lot of the secrets she confided.

Things like:
Because my biggest secret of all - the one I would rather die than tell, the one I wouldn't even put in my diary - is that I really, truly, in my heart, want to be beautiful.  want to be beautiful so much - because it will keep me safe, and keep me lucky, and it's too exhausting not to be.
As well as a lot of the embarrassment she suffered.  Even when something good happened (winning the poetry competition) it was tempered by something horrifying. That interview after she read her poem on TV? God I think I used to have nightmares about the exact same thing. My heart broke for her when her dad told her she was "a Morrigan. Not a prat".

I can't say my upbringing mirrored Johanna in any real sense outside of relating to the general embarrassment of being a teen girl, except when the nurse comes by and mistakes her as the mother of the twins. I have an intimate relationship with that particular embarrassment. When I was 11 my dad left me to sit in a cafe with my baby brother outside a supermarket so he could run in and grab some milk and bread. A lovely old lady started talking to me and asking questions about my brother, which I answer politely until she makes a comment about how "brave I was to have a baby when I was still so young myself". I freaked out, stammering about him being my brother and ONLY BEING ELEVEN YEARS OLD. I was horrified and any time I was left with my brother alone over the next few years in a shopping centre I'd very loudly exclaim "let's go find mum and dad, Liam" or "Liam your BIG SISTER loves you so much". It really wasn't anything to be ashamed of, but as an 11 year old girl who not only hadn't kissed a boy OR gotten her period yet, it was this absolutely horrendous thing. So I felt for Johanna, in that moment I was Johanna and my cheeks flushed red all over again

So all in all, I think the stage is well and truly set for Johanna to become Dolly. I'm also reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed at the moment, and she has a comment about all the women she's 'been', a goth girl, an earth girl, an adventurer etc. And it's so true. Maybe not every girl goes between such distinct sub-cultures, but our teen years are a time of constant reinvention. We play around with make-up and music and fashion styles, trying to find what fits best. Though often, I imagine, it's about trying to hide who we actually are and instead try and fit the mould that is your typical teenage girl.

This has all been a little serious so to wrap it up I'm going to share some of my favourite funny lines. And hot damn were there a few of them!

~"If I can't go on a date with a boy - I am fourteen; I have never gone on a date with a boy - then at least I can go on a date with me. A bed-date, i.e. a wank"

~"Corpses are terrifying. I've seen dead men that would freeze your innards so badly, you'd shit snow"

~"My father has a very personal and visceral loathing of Margaret Thatcher. Growing up, my understanding is that, at some point in the past, she bested my father in a fight that he only just escaped from - and that next time they meet it will be a fight to the death. A bit like Gandalf and the Balrog"

~"Man in tasseled shoes who looks like Prince Charles, but made out of ham - no"

I shall see you all in the comments section and your own blogs!

*Is this even slang outside of Australia? If not, well, you have been spared my incredibly lame joke.


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