For my first Cannonball Read book ever (and probably the first “book report” I’ve done in almost 20 years), I read How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. While I generally enjoyed reading this book and it was a fairly quick read, the entire premise really bugged me. Essentially, the main character sets out to methodically change who she is, in other words to become a different girl. The issue is that she believes she has to change herself entirely, and in fact create a wholly different persona, despite the fact that her “original” self appears to be happier and more comfortable in her own skin than her new persona. The main character seems much happier when she is just being herself (spending time with her brother listening to cheesy music, being a fan at a concert, hanging out with a musician with whom she develops an intense connection) than when she is acting in accordance with her “building” plan and trying to be something that she is not. For example, one of her projects is to become proficient in sex and while she is successful in this endeavor, she never gets any happiness or pleasure from it. While there are many funny parts of the book dealing with her sexual escapades, her lack of agency was depressing–she was pretty much just letting a bunch of guys fuck her because books and movies told her that was what she should do. It was depressing that it never even entered into her mind to ask if it was making her happy.
The main character does “hit bottom” and eventually reject some of the negative things that she took on as part of her “building” plan. However, it seems more like the message is that her building goals were wrong rather than that she never should have tried to change into someone else at all. This idea that you have to build yourself into someone else is what really bothered me about the book. While I don’t normally believe that fiction has to have a positive message (or a message at all), this book was clearly written with the idea that it was imparting a life lesson to girls and I understand that the author is a well-known media personality in the UK. Thus, the whole premise turned me off in a way that a book that was presented without seeming to have a message would not have.