How To Build A Girl (review)

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I finally found it. The book I’ve been waiting to review. And let me tell you, How to Build a Girl is hands down the best book I have read in a long, long time.

Written by Caitlin Moran and set in Wolverhampton in the 1990’s, How to Build a Girl follows the life of Johanna Morrigan from the ages of 14-17, as she tries to navigate the tempestuous waters of young adulthood. It is funny, clever, filthy, and raw, and I found myself relating to this awkward, dorky, sassy teenager in more ways than one. There is something about the way Moran captures what it’s like to be a teenage girl that really resonated with me. And she doesn’t shy away from the realities of exploring sexuality either. The book frequently delves into Johanna’s masturbation habits and later, her sexual encounters, with a kind of blunt honesty that I found both refreshing and amusing.

Johanna is an aspiring writer, who leaves school to pursue her dream and turn it into a career. She lands herself a job writing music reviews for a magazine, and it is a move that thrusts her into the music scene, and into the adult lifestyle that she so desperately craves.

Enter Dolly Wilde; a drug taking, alcohol guzzling, top hat wearing cynic, who manages to charm and repel people in equal measure with her razor wit, outlandish tales, and scathing opinions. Dolly Wilde is Johanna’s greatest creation; the very embodiment of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. And it is through Dolly, and the fearlessness that she is able to enjoy whilst wearing that mask, that Johanna is able to discover herself, who she truly is and what she wants. Though she manages to get herself into some pretty interesting – and cringeworthy! – situations along the way.

An array of interesting characters are interwoven throughout; a lovable bunch of misfits that add a kind of dark humour to the book. Amongst these are Johanna’s father; a sometime drunkard who has grand plans of making it in music…if only he can get someone to play his tapes on the radio. There is her surly older brother Krissi, who doesn’t seem to reciprocate Johanna’s unfailing feelings of adoration, but who still remains her hero and one of her favourite people. And of course, her first real love, best friend and favourite person; quirky rock star, John Kite. It is this last relationship in particular that really struck a chord with me. There’s something inherently sweet and pure about their easy friendship, and the intensity with which Johanna loves this slightly dishevelled, but truly genuine soul.

This book is honest and funny and heartfelt, and everything I could want in a coming of age story, without any of the saccharine overtones. I laughed out loud, and there were even times when I felt the prickling of tears at the corners of my eyes. I loved it so much I almost want to go back and start it all over again. But, more books are yet to be read and so, for now, I will simply say that How to Build a Girl has definitely made its way into my top ten books of all time.

The Girl on the Train Review

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I just finished reading The Girl on the Train. I heard about it after a reference was made to it being in a similar vein to Gone Girl, and to be honest, I think that’s where a large part of the book’s popularity stems from. In the same way Fifty Shades of Grey spurned an influx of erotic fiction (as loath as I am to use that tripe as an example), Gone Girl has prompted the popularity of crime thrillers.

The Girl on the Train tells a story from multiple perspectives, in the same way Gone Girl does, only with more characters. And I don’t know if Paula Hawkins intended it to be so, or if it was just me, but there wasn’t a single likeable character in the whole book. That’s not to say that the book was bad. The characters were rather well written, and the plot was intriguing, with a twist I didn’t put together until a chapter or so before it was revealed. But by gosh, did I hate those women.

On one hand, you have Rachael. An obsessive drunk with a penchant for seeking sympathy where it isn’t deserved. On the other hand, you have Anna. A smug, whiny mother who thinks she’s better than everyone else. And then there’s Megan; troubled, petulant, a bored wife, seeking outside thrills to satiate her restlessness. None of these women inspired anything in me besides repulsion, for various reasons. And the male characters weren’t much better.

The story essentially follows Rachael, who catches glimpses of the lives of the people in the houses along the train line as she rides the train every day. When she witnesses something unexpected, she finds herself – largely due to that obsessive nature I mentioned earlier – thrust into the tumultuous, messy lives of these people she knows only by sight. Not satisfied to just sit and speculate, she is soon caught in an insidious web of lies and deceit, with murder right at the heart of it all.

The story unfolds through the major plot and subplots throughout, all intermingling to create a pretty good story. Despite the characters’ unlikeable natures, they were, to Hawkins’ credit, not necessarily overly unreal. It’s not unthinkable that their own personal struggles are real and relatable, if not to me then at least to others. There was a messy, gritty quality to the book and the characters that lends itself to believability. If there’s one thing I hate in books, it’s those perfect characters that have never made a mistake in their lives, and writing flawless characters is certainly one thing the author cannot be accused of.

The story itself actually had me reasonably captivated. There were a lot of variables and it was written in such a way that you didn’t know exactly where it was going to go, as sometimes happens with this particular genre. All in all, I found it to be an enjoyable read and I’d probably give it a 7/10.