How to Build a Girl: Part 2

We’re moving on to Part 2 in the How to Build a Girl readalong! Now that we’re getting to the halfway point of the book: those of you trying to avoid plot points before reading might want to bookmark this for after the book is out (it can be pre-ordered through The Odyssey Bookshop). You can still watch The Pixies in their terrible music video to stay entertained while you wait, though. If you’re cool with minor spoilers, come on in!


I wish I could convey how obsessed I was with this song (and pretty much every band Johanna mentions in this section) as a freshman in college in 2002. No big deal, just a decade behind.

So, after Johanna’s stinging embarrassment on television, she decides it best to completely revamp herself: new look, new name, new life. She calls herself Dolly Wilde, after Oscar Wilde’s niece, dies her hair black and goes into a record shop for the first time. After a mishap with her younger brother, she ends up with a copy of a free music magazine, Disc & Music Echo, and grows determined to become a music journalist. Following a crash course in the music she’s missed, Johanna begins sending D&ME countless articles until they call her in to offer a writing gig with the magazine.

A few specific thoughts:

  • I thought this section was a fantastic balance to the first part of the book. While it still had the same humor and wit, it was a little more subdued, which I think was needed after such a punchy start.
  • Based on her wall, I’m thinking Johanna would be awesome at Tumblr. Also, she needs a community like My Daguerreotype Boyfriend (YUM).
  • I was basically freaking out over the music in this section. Repeatedly. It was wonderful.
  • I really, really hope Johanna’s dad isn’t going to screw things up by trying to use her as his next path to the future…but you know, it’s pretty much bound to happen.

And then there was Johanna’s first gig.

This tweet totally threw me back. The summer before I went to college and learned enough to listen to The Pixies, I was riding the emo wave hard and went to see Brand New open up for Taking Back Sunday. It wasn’t my first gig, but up until that point it had been mostly Dashboard Confessional and Ben Kweller and, let me tell you, Chris Carrabba doesn’t end up with butt sweat like this.


The Shelter (yes, from 8 Mile) is like the size of my living room. And it was August. And I’m pretty sure the place was at twice capacity, so it was absofuckinglutely disgusting. I completely understand Johanna’s experience. But, hey, I did meet my husband that night, sweat and all.

  • Jennifer Smeth

    Great recap! And I agree there were many blasts from the past in this one!

  • Emily@AstheCroweFlies

    You were obviously much more cultured with your music appreciation growing up. I only knew about 50% of the bands Johanna/Dolly makes mention of. My first concert experience was so radically different: my best friend and I talked our mothers to drive us 75 miles to a Poison concert (don’t ask). We both got sick on secondhand weed smoke and sweaty and grungy, and neither one of us knew why we got sick, other than the “funny-smelling cigarettes.”

  • I agree that it was a great balance after part one. I grew up in a musicals/country western household, so I missed a lot of the best parts of the early 90’s music scene.

  • amycrea

    You’re totally right about this section calming down a bit after the opening. I was glad to see that too. I don’t know, as a reader, if I could stick with that level of punchiness throughout.

  • Sarah Says Read

    “I really, really hope Johanna’s dad isn’t going to screw things up by trying to use her as his next path to the future…but you know, it’s pretty much bound to happen.”

    Ugh, her father. First taking her poetry contest money and now this. He sucks.

    Yay, you know the music! Because I know none of it… I recognized the names Courtney Love and Smashing Pumpkins, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize a song of theirs if it was on. Luckily, Moran does a good job with writing about music and discovering it as a teenager so I was able to identify on that level, at least.

    • I’ve been going back and forth with her dad, but I’m really going to hate him if (when) he causes some huge, embarrassing scene for her.

  • My heart reaches out to you, fellow scene kid. There was a point around my senior year of high school/freshman year of college when I was going to multiple local shows every weekend, in tiny hot rooms where the speakers were too loud. And Taking Back Sunday and Brand New and other angsty, screamy boys were my JAM. I remember the first time I saw a drummer’s butt sweat up close. I remember it all too well. *drifts off into sweet reverie*

    • I’m so glad I’m not alone in these flashbacks. Now that I enjoy keeping a bubble of old person space around me at shows, I can’t imagine what ever possessed me to jump into that sweaty mess.

  • Rayna

    I am fully expecting for there to be a blow-out fight between Johanna and her dad in the coming section, about when she’s going to review his album. I predict that it will culminate with him kicking her out of the house. I just hope she takes Lupin with her — he can hunt pigeons in London.

  • Eleanor Baggley

    Ahhh the gigs…I miss those sweaty, beery experiences and the excessive body rubbing as someone behind you is jumping up and down out of time with the beat. The good old days.

    I agree that this section is a little more subdued. I almost felt that it was a let down, but then had a rethink and realised it was necessary after such an in your face opening.

  • kayleigh M

    Oh she’d 100% be queen of tumblr. I can’t even imagine how much more awesome my early teens would have been if I had tumblr to share my over-the-top love of things with.

  • Kayleigh vW

    *smashes the follow button on My Daguerreotype Boyfriend* Bless you.

    That is some commendable butt sweat. You know that butt sweat comes with enthusiastic showmanship.

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