Note: this week's post will contain spoilers for the third section of the novel.
I was not over-the-moon about last week's section, but this week really delivered. Johanna falls in love! Dolly Wilde is resurrected, and with red hair! Her worst fears are realized! There is teeth-pulling and kissing! (Not at the same time.) It's the 90s! You can bring a full pint of Guinness straight from a pub and onto a plane!
You will be shocked and delighted.
First things first: John Kite. When we last left Johanna, she was heading to Ireland to interview this elusive songwriting fellow.
Confession: At the end of last week's section I googled 'John Kite' because I figured this was just one more 90s musical reference that was flying over my head. And the first result that came up was a musician! So Caitlin Moran has led me to listen to Cole Porter solo piano covers and wonder seriously about the musical consistency of the novel — if the editors at D&ME are so into classic broadway, why did none of them get her Annie joke??
But fortunately, John Kite turned out to be a completely fictional musician.*
John. He was not a beautiful boy, nor a tall one. He was round, like a barrel, in a shabby brown suit — and his hair was neither one color nor the other. His face was slightly crushed, and his hands shook a lot for a man of twenty-four — although, as he put it later, "In dog-years, my liver is sixty-eight." He looked like Richard Burton, full of song. Johanna is in love. He brings her on stage while he plays a show, and the music moves her to shameless, snotty tears. The night she meets him, she sleeps in his bathtub, covered in his motley fur coat. When she flies back to Wolverhampton, she receives a letter from him ("Oh thank God thank God thank God, I think — I am not going to die having never received a letter." ) and progresses to the final stage of teenage love: she papers her bedroom wall with images of him, and writes a gushy article listing all the things she adores about him. She says he is "more important than The Beatles."
It's okay, Johanna, we've all been there. But because this is the early 90s and the internet isn't A Thing yet, instead of posting it somewhere she can maybe get some commiserating comments from other sadsack teen girls in love (see: geocities, livejournal, tumblr), she sends it to be published in D&ME.
So, after that happens, Johanna doesn't get a call from the editor of D&ME for a while, but she has more important things to worry about. There is an investigation, and her family's benefits are cut by 11 percent, which is a huge blow to their already-desperate financial situation:
Eleven percent, by way of contrast to this utter ruin, seems ... manageable? After all, if I cut off 11 percent of my hair, I'd barely notice. Eleven percent isn't so bad, is it? The difference here, however, is between the math of people on a "comfortable" income, and people who are on the very edge. There are no investments to cash in, to tide you over this 11 percent dip — no bonds, savings, or shares. There are no "little luxuries" to cut back on, like going to the hairdressers, or a subscription to a magazine. [...] And there's no one we can borrow from — for one of the truths about the poor is that they tend only to know other poor people, who also couldn't afford an 11 percent dip, and can't subsidize ours. [149-150]I feel like this quote is too heartbreaking to follow with a GIF. Ugh. A lot of sad bits follow, like how some men come and take away their television, and Johanna breaks out because she's eating grilled flour cakes soaked in margarine all the time (supplemented with boiled cabbage and whatever the hell "salad cream" is). And poor little Lupin has five of his teeth pulled because they've rotted through.
I'm going to end this sobfest of a post with this last quote, in which Johanna impresses John Kite, the love of her young life, by casually smoking with him at a pub:
"You smoking now, Duchess?" he asks.
"I thought it was time for me to get another hobby," I say with a daring air, trying to light it.
Kite leans forward. "It's just, most people smoke them the other way round." I cackled so loudly at that bit last night that I woke up my cat. He was not so amused, but I was.
See you all next week!
How to Build a Girl will be released in September. You can pre-order it through the wonderful Odyssey Books, or through your local bookseller.
*No offense to Cole Porter (or IRL John Kite — you have a lovely voice).