Do you ever read novels that aren’t at all what you expected?
I’m going to start off by saying that I thought I would really like this book and I… didn’t. How to Build a Girl is not a bad novel, but it’s not what I wanted it to be. I blame this on the book description which does not suit this novel at all. The description makes it seem as though Dolly is some badass bitch who devours men and does whatever the hell she wants. In reality, Dolly never actually feels present. Johanna never seems to give this promised Dolly control, and (minor, minor spoiler here), Johanna doesn’t even start “having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men” until the last 150 pages or so. The description is, simply put, not a description of the novel, but of the type of novel the publisher thinks adolescent girls will want to read.
I didn’t dislike this book either, though. There were many things this novel does right. One of my favourites is how open this novel is about sex– from a female point of view! Masturbation is mentioned and described all the time, which is absolutely wonderful. We need more books talking about female masturbation in a casual and open way. As well, Johanna is fat, but this fat-ness does not really seem to bring her down. Like all people, there are moments when she is insecure about her body but, for the most part, being fat is simply an aspect of who she is, and it does not stop anyone from being attracted to her, and it does not stop her from feeling sexy either. Johanna is broken and a bit of a mess, but she is a teenage girl, trying to “build” herself into an adult and I absolutely love how she is characterized in that sense. She feels real, and I could see a lot of myself in her.
However, I felt like the plot was extremely bland. I didn’t really care about Johanna’s reviews, or her adventures with bands and writers. After a while, her sex escapades began to be rather dull too. In fact, the story I found most interesting gets all but dumped at the end of part one. I want to hear about her family living in poverty. I want to hear about her mother’s Postpartum Depression. I want to hear about Krissi, and what he is dealing with as he too tries to build himself. In the end, I didn’t care about Johanna’s story, which might be the biggest mistake a novel can make.
How to Build a Girl isn’t a bad book, and I can see it helping a lot of young adults find their voices and themselves. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot I wasn’t particularly thrilled about. Overall, I think this is a decent book, and it’s a nice, light read, but I don’t think it’s as good as it promises to be.
2.5 brutal music reviews out of 5