Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Build a Girl, Week 1: I will NEVER outgrow Gilbert Blythe, I tell you

Well we’re off and running with How to Build a Girl, and Caitlin Moran is here to serve as our tour guide through the teenage retrospective. First on the agenda: wanking.

While I have some reservations about discussing my own sexual hinterland on the Internet, I would hazard a guess that there is no woman (or man) who can’t relate to Johanna’s personal . . . habits. You don’t soon forget what it feels like to be in the throes of puberty.
My hormones are rioting like a zoo on fire. There’s a mandrill with its head ablaze unlocking other animal’s cages and screaming, “OH MY GOD—FREAK OUT!”
Yep, that's pretty much how I remember it.

I still feel a little jolt when I watch certain movies from my youth. And I think that’s why we list those movies among our favorites no matter how old we get (it certainly can’t be based on individual merit, because for every 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s a Ladybugs). We want to remember how it felt to be young and constantly fighting that unbidden blaze in our underpants. For SOME reason.

Me, the first time I saw Newsies.

But there are other aspects of teenage-girlhood that Moran wants us to remember, too, such as the way we took on burdens far beyond our ability to bear, and how we believed we were so much more mature than everyone else thought, if only they would let us prove it for once.

Johanna actually does have to contend with some serious Life Stuff. She is one of five children. Her father is an alcoholic with delusions of musical grandeur whose disability benefits keep the family afloat. Her mother has severe postpartum depression after giving birth to twins (“Currently we don’t have a mother. Just a space where one once was”). Johanna has never been kissed and is not optimistic that she ever will be, because she is missing one crucial requirement, she thinks.
I want to be beautiful so much—because it will keep me safe, and keep me lucky, and it’s too exhausting not to be.
Her parents aren’t exactly well-adjusted human beings or the most effective parents, but their love for each other and their family is evident. They aren’t villains. And their interactions have been one of my favorite aspects of the book so far.
“Angie!” he yelled. “Where are my trousers?” 
My mother shouted back from the bedroom, “You haven’t got any!” 
“I must have!” my father shouted back. 
My mother stayed silent. He was going to have to work this one out for himself.
Caitlin captures that feeling of invisibility so common to teenage girls. It’s a feeling that drives Johanna to carry on a running joke in which she pretends to have died quite suddenly, once posing as if she had fallen down the stairs and broken her neck just so her parents would come over and have a look at her, because knowing they were looking made her feel safe and loved. It sounds pathological, but there are few things more natural.

I, myself, often packed a bag and then hid in the backyard until my mom noticed I was gone and set out in search of me (she always found me immediately because I badly wanted to be found). It was a thoughtless cruelty to my parents, but it seemed logical when every cell in my body was crying out for confirmation that I was loved. That's a fun side effect of puberty: You feel everything 100 times more acutely than regular people, which leads to off-the-charts bouts of melodrama and serious hate-feelings toward the very people you count on to love you unconditionally.


When I wasn’t "hiding" under a bush, hugging my Barbie duffel bag and hoping it didn't rain before my mom found me (or that it did rain because then I could feel truly forlorn and cast-off), I channeled my Feelings into what I believed was truly brilliant poetry. This one is a little more self-satisfied than Johanna’s poem about her dog, but I think we were basically on the same wavelength.
“The Real Me," by Megan Speer (1999, age 14)
I am plain, I am simple, I am no beauty,
And even for those with much heart, it is plain for the judging eye to see.
No one ever sees deep enough to see the REAL me.
The real me lies hidden, deep within my being. 
The real me is shy and compassionate, but not without fault. 
It is loving and caring, but not without sin. 
It hurts when you hurt, it is glad when you’re glad, 
But even the real me overlooks the beauty within. 
The beauty in you. The beauty in those who love, trust, care, and feel. 
The reality in anyone is difficult to see. 
The reality in you, the reality in me. 
But if you look hard and carefully, you see, you believe, you trust.
You finally see the REAL me.
Angsty girl-poets UNITE.

This post is part of a readalong hosted by Emily at As the Crowe Flies and Reads and made possible by the lovely people at HarperCollins. Are you convinced you need this book? If yes, preorder from Odyssey Books or your favorite indie bookseller. If not, tune in next week. I've only just begun to convince you.


  1. *cough* Well, I'm just gonna say it - as a fellow poetess of teen angst, I think your poem's sweet. It's relatable and makes sense, which SORRY FANCY AWARD WINNING POETS, actually makes me like poetry more than being all "wooooow, that sounds so intelligent... I wonder what they're talking about." GO YOU AND YOUR REAL SELF, MEGS. Bonus points for the Julia moment, obviously.

    I think I'm going to like this book. I just hope Johanna doesn't completely lose herself along the way, I like her too much as she is! :)

  2. Dude, the gay thing RUINED my sense of camaraderie about this puberty, hormone-driven cauldron of lust. I was just obsessing over 40 year old actresses at that age.

    YOU KNOW THAT POEM IS NOT BAD also I love you and I'm glad you went through teenage angsty poet phase as it made you the lovely person you are today.

  3. "But there are other aspects of teenage-girlhood that Moran wants us to remember, too, such as the way we took on burdens far beyond our ability to bear, and how we believed we were so much more mature than everyone else thought, if only they would let us prove it for once" -- I feel like everyone has been really on point for the first week of a readalong (or maybe I'm just used to the over-excited silliness of HP) but this particular point was just, yes, oh my god yes.

    And your poetry Meg and story about running away? This is definitely shaping up to be a readalong of sharing, and I am 100% on board for that. Except I will not be sharing any teen poetry, I am in no way brave enough for that.

  4. You CLEARLY win this week for analysis and reflection. And your GIFs are pretty strong, too, come to that. There's nothing that I don't love about this post. All I can say is that my teenage self would have LOVED your teenage self. I want to time travel so that we can all be besties at the time when we could have really used each other in our lives.

  5. I wish I could go back in time and tell 14-year-old me you said that. SHE needed to hear it. Aw, shucks, *I* needed to hear it, too. : )

  6. You were way ahead of your time, friend. I'm only NOW beginning to obsess over 40-year-old actresses, and think of all the time I wasted on Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

  7. I mean, our penchant for ludicrous GIFs aside, we have pretty good brains, our group.

    I feel like we're at summer camp.

  8. You lot are the honest, brazen, intelligent lady-friends I never had growing up, and I do WISH we'd all known each other back then...but thank goodness we know each other now. AMIRITE?

  9. Awwwww, Megs! You're so right about adolescence and puberty and GOOD GOD the highs and lows. I just love everything about this post, basically. (Your poem is better than the 10 Things one I AM SORRY KAT YOU'RE STILL MY FIRST FEMINIST ICON)

  10. "how we believed we were so much more mature
    than everyone else thought, if only they would let us prove it for once." THIS.

    C'mon, your poem isn't bad at all!

  11. Oh angsty teenage poetry. I was the same exact way. I'm pretty sure all of my writing from my teen years has been thrown out, because being a happy, well-adjusted adult and reading that shit made me embarassed for myself.

  12. Ah, were an e.e. cummings of teenage poetry. I like it.

  13. I still suffer from the maturity delusion, I think. And then I miss a bill or something.

  14. Most of my poetry is gone, too. And my journals THANK GOD.