It’s 1994, the height of Britpop — Oasis, Blur, Pulp — and celebrities are everywhere, even in Johanna’s life. Her friend John Kite, the secret love of her life, has suddenly become a rock star. She also has a new sidekick named Suzanne Banks, a pill-popping, fast-talking feminist and lead singer of a band roaring up the charts. And after lots of alcohol, she ends up having a two-night stand with a hyper-misogynistic stand-up comic. With all the stars surrounding her, she decides she’d better catch up fast.
Stylish and smart, Johanna knows that words are her route to fame — and to John Kite’s heart. “I am going to have to reinvent falling in love,” she declares. “I am not going to get John by being gentle, and beautiful — because I am not. Instead, I am going to win him through endeavor: I am going to invent the thing of ‘girls winning boys.’ ”
Johanna heads to the Face, a magazine that is London’s companion of cool, where her columns don’t just buzz, they roar. Media darlings line up to hear her take on the lives of teenage girls. Real fame is finally in her grasp, until reality slaps back in the form of a leaked sex tape.
As Johanna works in an industry dominated by bloke culture, we see her swimming upstream from the beginning. But when she has to deal with the onslaught of slut shaming, Moran’s novel is strongest, showing an empowered young woman fighting against a society constantly trying to strip her of her value.
“How to Be Famous” explodes with the screams of rock-and-roll life, but at its heart it’s an ode to the tenacity, energy and collective power of teenage girls.
Karin Tanabe, a former Politico reporter, is the author of four novels, including her latest, “The Diplomat’s Daughter.”
How to be Famous
By Caitlin Moran
Harper. 352 pp. $26.99