Caitlin Moran’s vividly funny and wrenchingly real How To Build a Girl may focus on a one incorrigible character — Johanna Morrigan, aka Dolly Wilde — but her raucous, rock 'n’ roll, '90s-set fable about what it means to be, well, a girl, can resonate with everyone who is still looking for their most authentic self. When we meet 14-year-old Johanna, she’s struggling with a burning desire to be famous and recognize for her talents by the masses, a desire that backfires pretty horrifically when she appears on a local television show and proceeds to make a total dork out of herself.
But all is not lost, because Johanna soon comes up with an idea — to become a snarky, all-knowing, self-styled rock critic for a London music mag — and make everyone forget about the old Johanna. She picks up a new name (Dolly), a new look (lots of black), and a new tone (yup, snarky), and everything really does work out. Sort of. Despite her success, Dolly struggles under the weight of her new persona, desperate to find the really Johanna (Dolly? Someone else?) underneath her punk trappings. Can she do it? I won't spoil the inevitable movie for you, so get to reading!
But if you've already read (and loved) How To Build a Girl, here are nine other books that will make you want to rock out even harder.
If you're looking for another story about a British gal who reinvents herself, Nick Hornby's (new!) Funny Girl is a perfect pick
Hornby's newest novel may be set in the swinging sixties, but a lot of the beats are the same as the ones that you'll find in How To Build a Girl. In Funny Girl, we meet Sophie Straw, who is desperate to remake herself into someone better (cooler? funnier? hipper?) in order to pursue a wild life in London. Sounds familiar, right?
If you can't help but love Johanna's wild and weird family, grab Emma Straub's The Vacationers for a modern spin on the drama
The Morrigans are a wild bunch, but lovably so. Family dysfunction is always welcome in literature, but it's not always easy to make tough characters also feel alive and worthy of affection — something Moran does with ease. Straub does something similar with more prickly characters in her The Vacationers, which takes family troubles on the road with the world's worst family getaway.
If you're into stories about young people finding their way through music, Joe Jackson's A Cure for Gravity will grab your punk-loving heart
New wave musician Joe Jackson was never the kind of rock star to flaunt his celebrity or his history, which is what makes his 2000 memoir such a trip. Jackson traces his hardscrabble roots up to his formal musical education and his eventual success. Skipping in and out of various London music scenes and having lots of fun and adventures along the way, Jackson's A Cure for Gravity might as well be called How To Build a Boy.
If you want to fall in love with another precocious girl, pick up Marie-Helene Bertino's 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
Johanna — sorry, Dolly — starts her career in music very early in her life, but even she can't best the 9-year-old star-in-the-making at the heart of Bertino's novel. Madeleine Altimari may be just a kid, but she's also a budding jazz singer, one who is determined to make her big dreams come true in plucky fashion. The book also features some criss-crossing narratives and the kind of charm that's music to every reader's ears.
If you would like another story about the weirdness of the rock n' roll lifestyle from the (sort of) outside, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad is just the ticket
Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 novel is a real banger, one that weaves together various fictional tales of different members of the music industry elite. From actual musicians to executives, the book links together their stories to tell a full-bodied story about what it really means to rock out for a living. Bonus: You can read each of the book's 13 chapters on their own.
If you want another look inside a rock critic's career, Robert Christgau's Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man is a new classic
The so-called "Dean of American Rock Critics," Christgau has been writing professionally about music since 1967, and his brand-new memoir (it hits shelves on February 24, so consider yourself ahead of the curve on this one) promises to tell us how he got there, with lots of rollicking stories to drive it home.
If you're jonesing to read another story about a life on a council estate, add NW by Zadie Smith to your to-read stack
Name a topic, and the divine Zadie Smith probably has something to say about it, especially if it's a particularly British topic. Smith's NW follows a set of former council estates inhabitants (and forever friends) who, just like Johanna, struggle to reconcile their hip London lives with their more scrappy pasts.
If you'd like to read another work by an outspoken (and proud) feminist, it's time you picked up Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist
Johanna is a prototypical and proud feminist who gleefully crashes the boys' club of the music mag world based on the strength of her own skills and her devilish desire to succeed. Although her Dolly is often the only lady around, Dolly doesn't bend or break when the boys demand something, and Gay's own essay collection satisfyingly traces her own evolution as an out and proud feminist.
If you want to read another book by Moran, you will love her semi-memoir How To Be A Woman
When Johanna grows up, she'll likely be just as cool as her creator, the wickedly funny and wise Moran. In this essay/story collection, Moran puts her life and philosophy on display, and the result is a very funny, very real book basically penned by your new best friend.