Highly Important Life Lessons We've Learnt From Caitlin Moran's How To Build A Girl
The Debrief: Includes a guide to dealing with an unfeasibly large penis
Caitlin Moran is best known for being the much-loved author of How To Be A Woman, a memoir that put the fun back into modern feminism, mainly asking why our underwear had suddenly got a lot smaller and started giving us wedgies, while inviting us to stick our hands down our pants and shout 'I'M A FEMINIST!'. Now she is back, with her debut novel How To Build a Girl. And this time round, it is not wise words straight from the mouth of Caitlin Moran but the character Johanna Morrigan, a 14-year-old insecure teen, eldest of five, living at the centre of a chaotic, poor-but-loving madhouse. The book is hilarious and moving, following Johanna's journey from council house in Wolverhampton to celebrated London writer (sound familiar?). And here's what we learnt along the way…
No need to buy a 3D dildo, a hairbrush will do
No idea if the masturbation episodes in this novel are loosely based on the author's real teenage years – they involve some rather creative techniques indeed. According to fictional protagonist Johanna, all you need is a hairbrush: 'At first my ally was a trusty family hairbrush. By day, I used it to brush my hair before cutting my fringe with the big kitchen scissors. And by night, I rode the handle of the grooming item like a limitless fuck-pony'. We applaud this level of imagination.
Your idols don’t have to be obvious, or the same as everybody else
Caitlin’s book is all about building yourself, using the pop culture around you to assemble a personality from scratch. Her idols aren’t pictures of supermodels taped to the fridge or Marilyn Monroe underwear shots. Instead, Johanna finds inspiration from 'Bugs Bunny dressed up as a woman, as he seduces the fool, Fudd. That is the woman I could be, definitely: a cartoon man-rabbit dressed up as a girl, trying to have sex with a stuttering bald man. I could definitely do that.'
If insulted by family members, fire back with quick comedy
There are lots of examples of Johanna getting out of tricky situations by just laughing it off, or making things into a joke (even if she is the only one laughing). As Caitlin has said herself on her recent book tour, 'Life divides into two parts: things that are amazing at the time. And things that are awful at the time, which then turn into amazing anecdotes.' One of our favourite comedy comeback lines in the book is when Johanna’s mother says spitefully 'you’ve changed', to which Johanna replies: 'Well, that’s good isn’t it, Mother. Otherwise I’d still be excreting via your umbilical cord'.
If someone accuses you of 'sleeping around', own it
Like most teens, Johanna is faced with a few rumours (by a boy) indicating she has been 'sleeping around'. Instead of feeling deflated at someone negatively commenting on her decision to want to explore her newly found sex life, she replies: 'I am a Lady Sex Adventure! I’m a Swashfuck-ler! Indiana Bones!' Next time someone says anything derogatory about you enjoying casual sex, you could always reply with one of these. Or make up a new one.
The best pep talk you can get is someone swearing at you
Well it worked for Johanna. In chapter eight, she is sitting on a wall crying, wanting to be a writer. Her dad decides to deliver a speech: 'So if you want to be a writer, Johanna, if you want to be a fucking writer, then BE a fucking writer. Just fucking write. Write something. WRITE SOMETHING!' The following chapter involves Johanna getting an interview in London for a music publication. Might not work for everyone, though.
Don’t tell anyone your secrets, ever
Johanna’s 'goth cousin' Ali gives some quite useful advice whilst they are outside, rebelliously smoking a Silk Cut. 'You’ve got to fake it until you make it,' she says. Johanna realises that this is the third big truth she’s learnt all year, after 'never tell anybody your secrets and don’t do impressions of Scooby Doo on the television' (see chapter four for the long version of that hilarious incident).
If possible, don’t do impressions of Annie when offered an important job opportunity
Johanna goes up to London for an interview at music magazine D&ME (not to be mistaken for NME). The Deputy Editor himself offers Johanna a job, but instead of saying 'yes please', she responds: 'First I’ll do the walls, and then the floors…' No one except witty Johanna realises that this is a dialogue from Annie where she mistakes Daddy Warbucks' offer of adoption for an interview to be the housemaid.
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t catch cystitis
Caitlin Moran has been unofficially dubbed as the spokeswoman for cystitis. In chapter 20, we meet Big Cock Al, when Johanna tells him she has cystitis. 'Shit! Fuck!' Big Cock Al replies, thinking he’s caught something. Like crabs. No Al, don't worry, you can’t catch cystitis. Phew!
Tips to deal with an unfeasibly large penis
Possibly the most hysterical passage in the book is Johanna's sexual experience with Big Cock Al. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts (and vaginas). Our favourite tips for dealing with a penis that is as large as a python snake are 1) remain 'in doggy, [so] you can subtly but essentially keep crawling away from the penis'; 2) 'Keep on pretending that you’re Al. Think about how amazing it is for him to have sex with you!; 3) 'Use blow job breaks in the same way American football uses ad-breaks'.
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At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating