how to build a girl


Emily is hosting this lovely readalong of How to Build a Girl (THANKS EMILY!), and if you’d like to pre-order a copy of this you should head on over to Odyssey Bookshop to do that. And if you’re not readalong-ing with us, be aware – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Alright ya’ll, I don’t have too much time to write this, so let’s jump right in –

  • “I don’t want him to see what I look like when I do something for the first time. I don’t want anyone watching me change. I will do all my changing in private. In public I am, always, the finished thing.” –> Seriously Johanna, you have to stop saying things that are so perfect. This is basically me… or basically old me, as new me is not quite as shy about doing new things. But going into a new situation, there’s always a lot of stress and not wanting people to see you not knowing how something works, and yeah.
  • “I am getting incredibly high on a single, astounding fact: that it’s always sunny above the clouds. Always. That every day on earth – every day I have ever had – was secretly sunny, after all.” –> Again, lovely.
  • Johanna meets John Kite and he shows her off on stage before his concert. My eyebrow raised in skepticism here. Not that it couldn’t happen… but it’s just a REALLY big stroke of luck and incredibleness. And of course, Johanna basically falls in love with him. I am cynical on this bit too… but I’ll wait and see if/how their “relationship” actually goes before I go down that path.
  • Her dad doesn’t appreciate the Guinness she thoughtfully and carefully obtained for him. Because he’s kind of a dick.
  • The family’s benefits get cut. By 11%. I have MANY issues with this section, but I don’t want to get into it.

A couple points though…

Seriously, why is it never mentioned why her mom doesn’t work? Why is this not even brought up?

TV is a luxury that should have been cut ages ago.

Johanna should be paying rent now that she has a job.

Krissi is upset because he doesn’t think he’ll get to go to university now. Did he really ever think his parents would be able to pay for that? How about working hard in school to apply for a scholarship, or planning to work to put yourself through college?

Krissi steps up and does a common sense thing – he starts growing plants to help supplement the lack of fresh vegetables in their diet. WHY  HASN’T HIS MOTHER BEEN DOING THIS ANYWAYS. The whole family could pitch in on taking care of a garden.


idiot headache


weep for humanity


Also, it’s been two years – I’m wondering if it was actually the neighbor that said something, or if this came about because of something else. Like maybe that someone in the household was working (Johanna) and so benefits had to be re-evaluated, which would make sense.

Back to the bullets.

  • Johanna’s been wankin’ it to thoughts of the devil.
  • Her dad mentions her helping to get his name out there in music circles, and she kind of agrees, but nothing really happens…
  • After a bit of quiet time since she wrote a kind of ridiculous fangirl of a love letter about John Kite as an article, Johanna’s called back to work and starts getting more to do, which is a good thing.
  • She feels the need to drink in front of her much older co-workers… which, I understand the sentiment… but bad decision.
  • Johanna can get records as a work expense!
  • I enjoyed Johanna’s observations on how useful smoking is. It’s gross and ridiculous, so I don’t understand why people still choose to do it. However, I have noticed the strong social bonds between smokers, especially in work situations.
  • Johanna’s first kiss!

imaginary hat 2

But a bit anti-climactic, no?

  • Johanna starts writing mean reviews, and I LIKE IT. I feel like this might be the point where Johanna gains a bit more of a backbone.

Crap, I really need to go to bed. Overall, I didn’t like this section as much… I feel Johanna regressed a bit, and all the stuff about her family’s benefits being decreased irritated me. It could have been a really touching aspect of the story, but the way Moran did it here does not really rile my sympathies. But, I look hopefully to the next section.





  1. I don’t really understand how the part with her family’s benefit being decreased irritated you. Not only do we know that the dad actually had a horrific accident and deserved the benefits but it was only supplying 11% of their income, so obviously he’s working more than you think AND it is likely that the mother is also working to some extent. They are in the middle of a recession which almost exclusively hit people in the working class, people who worked in factories and trades who were put out of work and were unable to find jobs to keep their families afloat because those roles no longer existed. What are they supposed to do? Live on the street? Put their kids into foster care (which is in no way a solution given how dire the foster care system is worldwide)? Is it so wrong that they want their kids to have a little bit of joy, even if it is only access to a television? Which is the first thing they get rid of when they have to re-evaluate their budget. I just honestly don’t know what you expect from them.


    1. The benefits weren’t supplying 11% of their income – their total amount of benefits have been decreased by 11%. So if they were getting about 1000 a month, they now get 890. Which is a lot when you’re broke, but manageable.

      And I’m distressed because the family, with the exception of Johanna, isn’t even trying to pull themselves out of it. They’ve just accepted that they’re poor, and feel entitled to the assistance that her father was exaggerating his old injuries to get. And their mother isn’t working, or I think that would have been mentioned.

      It’s just… I’ve been poor, and my family was on welfare growing up. The situation in this book is what gives welfare a bad name. Welfare IS needed and is important, but you have to be at least trying to better your situation.


      1. Okay to the 11% thing but I still don’t really see you giving any answers. Just do better? Okay, sure. You’ve decided the dad is completely faking even though it has been pretty clearly spelt out that he had an epic injury and yes, he has exaggerated it but you have to do that for invisible/re-occurring illnesses otherwise people are quick to shut down support. He might be fine for two weeks, and then he might be unable to move, let alone work, for a month. How is he supposed to get regular work that way? Especially since he was a fireman and obviously would be qualified for similar physical based employement. And especially since those are the jobs that were worst effected during the 1990s recession in England. And ignoring the fact that the mother has post-partum depression, she has two-year old twins so is she supposed to work during the day and pay for help? Work at night and just never get to see her other three kids? It’s very easy to say “do better” but at what point do you say, well we might be living on very little but at least we get to see each other and be a family. Not to mention, as Laura mentioned that she is likely receiving Carer’s pay for staying home with her husband, which not only supports the family’s income but also saves the country and immense amount of money.


      2. I don’t think her father is completely faking – I understand he had a bad injury years ago, and suffers from occassional bouts of pain from it still. I understand that he fakes a limp because he’s worried his benefits will end. I DO believe it is still possible for him to work, at least part time. From what’s been mentioned so far, it appears that these bouts of chronic pain are not a frequent occurrence, and that they last days, not weeks. Working with the benefits office, they might have been able to place him in a workplace that could accommodate his needs, they could get him into job training. But okay, for arguments sake, let’s say he’s completely 100% disabled and there’s no way he could possibly work. Their mother, while she may be depressed, is still fit to work. She could work during the day while her husband or eldest kids watch the younger ones, or she could work a couple nights a week. She would still be able to see her kids, but she would also be able to buy them shoes. ANYTHING would be better than nothing. (And I’m not going to assume she receives carer’s pay – he doesn’t need around the clock care, I doubt the government would pay her for something like that unless he was much more severely injured, and the book hasn’t said anything about it).

        I would be completely be okay with their desperate situation if there was just ONE single line somewhere that implied her parents are at least trying to find employment or make extra money. Just ONE sentence about her mother searching through “help wanted” ads or calling friends to see if they know of any jobs, or offering to babysit other neighborhood children for money, or SOMETHING. Just ONE line about her dad seeking out extra odd jobs. Then I would absolutely be sympathetic towards them. In a recession, it is hard, sometimes impossible, to find work – but you still have to keep trying. Instead, her teenage son started growing vegetables to keep them from being malnourished, and her teenage daughter is shoplifting. Her daughter also has a job and her income could help bridge that 11% gap. The kids are the only ones trying to make the situation more manageable, and that’s what’s upsetting me. That the parents DON’T appear to be trying at all. It’s great that they love their kids, but right now their kids need shoes and food.


      3. I can understand that. I guess for me, especially as this is a book about Johanna, mentions of odd jobs, an injury, depression and knowing it takes place in the area worst effected by the recession is enough context without seeing them circling jobs in a newspaper. But I do get where you’re coming from. I just find it’s really easy to stand outside and say “you’re not doing enough” without really thinking about all of the other things that factor into a single decision made in life. My uncle had relapsing/remitting MS so I know all about how hard it is to keep a job when you can be fine for a year, and then bedridden for a week. It’d be nice to think employers would be understanding but that rarely seems to be the case.


      4. Yeah… and I might have a hard time trying to really picture the setting, because before this book I literally knew NOTHING about a recession in Britain in the 90’s. And I have a hard time not comparing it to the US recession around 2009 and that wasn’t THAT bad. Gas rose and some people were laid off, but people were still spending a ton of money eating out and shopping, and people on benefits definitely still had the luxuries like cell phones, cars, tv’s, new gaming systems, etc. And I remember at the time seeing “help wanted” signs in a lot of stores and restaurants and being surprised, because they talked about unemployment numbers so often in the news.

        I’m also having a really hard time not comparing Johanna’s dad to my dad. They’re SO similar. My dad had back surgeries and was termed “75% disabled” and was deemed unfit for steady work… but he was out all the time working side jobs and picking up stoves and furnaces and a bunch of other things that would have meant losing his disability coverage, if he got caught. He could clearly still do work, but preferred to get a government check AND whatever he could make under the table. It’s SUPER frustrating.


  2. Great review. It’s nice to see a balanced review as I’ve read all of everybody’s read-a-long posts and only ever seen the good!

    I daren’t read this book. I LOVED How To Be A Woman, but Moranthology annoyed me. I suspect (and I know it’s wrong) that I won’t like this one pretty much because I’ve already decided that I won’t. I can’t even really put my finger on why – possibly it’s because it just seems like How To Be A Woman from a third person perspective.

    I also suspect that I’d pick up on the points that you did.

    Anyway, I really do like this review 🙂


  3. Well, I inadvertently read & reviewed more this week than we were supposed to, so I don’t want to be even more spoilery in my comments. Can’t say that I agree with you, Sarah, about the overall affect of their losing 11%, but I do agree that at that point, Johanna should have been contributing more to the household income. (We don’t really know how much she does, only that her parents insist that she do some saving for herself.) This is more or less resolved in section three, and it came as the biggest surprise for me, but we shall see.


    1. Yeah they don’t mention anything about where the other half of her check should go, we only know that with her first check she bought a TV, which I kind of cringed at. I am VERY intrigued to read Section 3.


  4. I think the mother is suffering some horrendous depression–part postpartum, and part just the shambles of life in general. That level of depression could have a lot to do with her inability to manage the family’s resources better, or even work.


  5. So…
    1) I’m pretty sure her mum doesn’t work because she just had two babies, and also because she’s horribly depressed and also because she’s probably her husband’s carer?

    2) TV IS a luxury, but (and this is something Caitlin’s written about before) it’s literally the only luxury in their lives. There are no trips out, no real treats, nothing really to do except watch the TV. I think it’s really mean to say they can’t have that, along with everything else they can’t have.

    3) I don’t think that Krissi was expecting his parents to pay for university AT ALL (that’s not really how it works over here, anyway) but obviously he’s going to feel like he’s responsible to help out the family and try to get a job instead of studying more.

    4) There really was a massive recession going on in the country at the time (FUCKING THATCHER) and it was especially bad in the Midlands, and even if dadda or mum were fit for work, which they’re not, there aren’t any jobs anyway.

    I will defend them all to the death, basically, HOWEVER it was quite a dick move of her dad not to appreciate the guinness. BUT this is how we know Johanna will always stay humble.


    1. Her mom may very well be depressed… but is that a valid excuse not to work? I can’t lose my job and claim it’s because I’m depressed and expect that that will be okay, that that excuses me from having to work to pay my bills. And no where in the book does it mention her being her husband’s carer or that he would need “care” – he has some days where he is in chronic pain, and then he shuts himself in a room on meds. I’m frustrated that what her mother does for work (or used to do, or maybe is trying to do) hasn’t been mentioned ONCE in the book.

      Maybe I misread Krissi’s parts wrong, but he definitely seemed bitter about there being no extra money for him to go to university. He should try to get a job though, to help out.

      I think her parents could AT LEAST handle part-time jobs, especially her mom (her dad, fine, he has chronic pain that flares up once in a while… I believe some people have that and still manage to find some per diem work or a kind of job where their schedule is flexible and can accomodate that, but we can write him off for the moment I guess). Maybe there aren’t any jobs, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be at least trying to find one. Johanna did, after all.


      1. I’m going to respond to the depression, because it’s what I know – post partum CAN be that bad and yes depression CAN be that debilitating. But I don’t think that’s what this book is about. But I definitely see your point that there are definite holes where Mom could have been more fleshed out.

        Besides that – I love your sticking-to-your-guns-ness. 🙂

        Also, yes with the smoking thing. Smokers always seem to network better – I hate them for that. 🙂


      2. Damn smokers and their networking. Everytime I see co-workers head out together to smoke, I think of that episode of Friends where Rachel tries to smoke to fit in with her new boss and co-worker.


      3. God, I’m so late catching up with these… but OH MY YES depression can be that debilitating. Like April, it’s what I know. I have recurring clinical depression and it literally tears your mind apart at the seams. You can’t read or process information or handle basic tasks, physical OR mental, and it feels like the most exhausting, painful, tear-jerking horror just keeping yourself up, fed and relatively clean. Now imagine that but with two babies that you HAVE to take care of, however impossible the rest may be. There’s just no room in that scenario to work a job as well, it’d be a recipe for a complete mental breakdown and probably hospitalisation. And the worst thing is, SO MANY PEOPLE (who usually have no direct experience of severe depression) think that qualifies as ‘fit for work’. 😦


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