How to Be Famous – Caitlin Moran
This could very easily become a very gushy essay about how much I love Caitlin Moran, so you’ll have to excuse me if my inner fangirl bursts forth. I love Caitlin Moran. I love this book and the one that came before it and if you take anything away from this post, other than I love Caitlin Moran, it is that this book is incredible and you need to get it into your lives.
So, just so we’re all on the same page, How to Be Famous is a very unexpected sequel to How to Build A Girl, which I read a few years ago and still think about sometimes. When I say unexpected, I mean in the best kind of birthday surprise kind of way, I had no idea there was going to be a continuation in Dolly/Johanna’s story, so naturally, when I saw it listed as an egalley I had to have it. There was no question. And just to be the icing on top of that amazing surprise cake, this was everything I loved about How to Build a Girl and more.
A hilarious, heartfelt sequel to How to Build a Girl, the breakout novel from feminist sensation Caitlin Moran who the New York Times called, “rowdy and fearless . . . sloppy, big-hearted and alive in all the right ways.”
You can’t have your best friend be famous if you’re not famous. It doesn’t work. You’re emotional pen-friends. You can send each other letters—but you’re not doing anything together. You live in different countries.
Johanna Morrigan (AKA Dolly Wilde) has it all: at eighteen, she lives in her own flat in London and writes for the coolest music magazine in Britain. But Johanna is miserable. Her best friend and man of her dreams John Kite has just made it big in 1994’s hot new BritPop scene. Suddenly John exists on another plane of reality: that of the Famouses.
Never one to sit on the sidelines, Johanna hatches a plan: she will Saint Paul his Corinthians, she will Jimmy his Pinocchio—she will write a monthly column, by way of a manual to the famous, analyzing fame, its power, its dangers, and its amusing aspects. In stories, girls never win the girl—they are won. Well, Johanna will re-write the stories, and win John, through her writing.
But as Johanna’s own star rises, an unpleasant one-night stand she had with a stand-up comedian, Jerry Sharp, comes back to haunt in her in a series of unfortunate consequences. How can a girl deal with public sexual shaming? Especially when her new friend, the up-and-coming feminist rock icon Suzanne Banks, is Jimmy Cricketing her?
For anyone who has been a girl or known one, who has admired fame or judged it, and above all anyone who loves to laugh till their sides ache, How to Be Famous is a big-hearted, hilarious tale of fame and fortune-and all they entail.
Right, so my love affair with Caitlin Moran, which admittedly is rather one-sided, began when I read How to Build a Girl because it resonated so much with me. It is a book about a girl growing up in a working-class family in a suburb who wants to be a writer and manages to achieve that by becoming a columnist for a music magazine while in her tender teen years. It is about growing up and accepting yourself and reaching your dreams. It is also about being a woman and all that that entails. It is a phenomenal story and for me, who grew up in a working-class family in a suburb who wanted to be a writer and went on to become a journalist (though admittedly, not for a music magazine while a teenager) it ticks literally every box. Johanna/Dolly was everything I always wanted me to be, kooky, but confident with it and utterly sure of her own ability when it comes to writing. Also, there is a line in there about how “In this family, we vote labour!” and something about how you’d be disowned for voting conservative and I feel that. That is a whole mood in my family. (In fact, I posted about that very quote here.)
After reading How to Build a Girl, I started to read more of Caitlin Moran’s work and well, I admire her, not just as a writer, but also as a journalist and a woman and How to Be Famous just further proves that I am right to do so. Though, I am conflicted on the idea of groupies and rock stars… but I do see her point!
How to be Famous catches up with Johanna/Dolly (she has her real name and her pen name, so don’t be concerned that I keep referring to her like that!) a year or so after How to Build a Girl. She is now settled in London, renting her own flat in Camden, still working at the magazine, has a group of friends around her and is loving her life. Though, she is nearly 20 at this point and is now starting to see the less shiny aspects, like the fact that she is essentially living in a boys club and after a particularly horrible sexual encounter, she’s starting to realise that to most men she comes across, being a woman is no different than being an object. So, because she is Dolly Wilde, she has to do something to right this. This is a book set in the nineties but reads like it could be happening in 2019. This is a book that isn’t afraid to stand up and speak out. Caitlin Moran, and by extension, her work, is often described as being feminist and I know that the connotations of feminism can be a bit… scary for some people because all you’ve ever really heard about feminists is that they are angry and preachy and hate men. It’s a bit like being a vegan. You mention you’re vegan and suddenly you’re on trial because someone once saw something on the internet that insisted that all vegans hate meat eaters and judge everyone for their cheese consumption. I’m about to let you into a secret, as a feminist and a vegan, all those things you’ve heard? Most of them are complete fabrications. This book isn’t preachy and it isn’t in your face, but it is feminist. Wonderfully so.
At its core, though this is a story about a girl growing up and getting wise and trying to get over a horrible experience whilst also getting even, How to Be Famous is a story about validating and celebrating teenage girls and young women. Dolly/Johanna’s latest project isn’t interviewing pop stars, it’s creating a manual for them, so that they realise just how important teenage girls are to their popularity and success. I know that teenage!Leah would have loved having a book like this to show me that my undying love for Mcfly (it is a true love and it lasts forever) is no more invalid than my dad’s equally obsessive love of Paul Weller. One isn’t better or cooler or more acceptable than the other, but teenage!Leah was shamed more than once for buying concert tickets and merch and walking to Tesco ready for opening on album release day. This is a book for any girl that has been a teenager and has been shamed for loving something. Having this story when I was younger and having a character like Dolly/Johanna would have shown me a lot earlier that there is nothing wrong with being a teenage girl.
How to Be Famous is endearing, charming and clever. It is everything How to Build a Girl was and more. In fact, this just made my favourite books of the year list and it’s only February. Just to show how deadly serious I am, here is the Nick Fury Seal of Approval, we haven’t seen that in a while now have we?