cover image How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl

Caitlin Moran. Harper, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-233597-5

“The 1990s are a bad time to be poor and not-famous,” thinks 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan, who lives with her parents and four siblings on a council estate in Wolverhampton. Arguably, the new millennium brought little relief on this front, but for Moran (How to Be a Woman), the gritty British landscape of adolescence, set to a loud ’90s soundtrack of the Stone Roses and the Mondays, is the stage for Johanna’s fabulous reinvention of herself. Adopting the pseudonym Dolly Wilde, Johanna educates herself in eyeliner and contemporary music and begins submitting record reviews to a London weekly. In the process, she grows up, has adventures far beyond the estate walls, and learns to love herself. Moran’s sharp sense of humor comes through in Johanna’s observations. Gratifying, too, are the constant stream of ’90s alt-rock references (Soup Dragons, anyone?) and the portrait of a pre-Internet world, where kids actually had actually leave their houses to find new identities. Unfortunately, Johanna’s voice feels forced, and her exploits seem to surpass what might have been believable chutzpah. (Sept.)