I've got to give Caitlin Moran props. I'm now so deeply invested in Johanna as a character that even as she continues to do things that are Bridget Jones-level cringeworthy, I'm still on her side. She's just a teenaged girl, teetering on the brink of becoming something, if she can hold herself together.
When we left Johanna (or, as she wants to be called, Dolly Wilde), she'd just talked her way into a dream job for a music magazine. Now they're sending her on a dream assignment to Ireland, to interview musician and hard-partier John Kite. She's never been out of Britain; she's never been on a plane. The flight is a form of intoxication to her:
"I feel like I've just flown 600 miles per hour head-on into the most beautiful metaphor of my life: If you fly high enough, you get above the clouds, it's never-ending summer."
Floating on that triumphant high, she meets John Kite, and it's a delirious experience. He calls her Duchess, talks to her like no one's ever talked to her before, treats her like she's the most important person in the world. She returns to Britain and writes her article about him. We're not given the text of the article, but when the music magazine suddenly stops sending her assignments, it's not hard to figure out that she likely went a tad bit overboard with hyperbolic praise. She may have devoted herself to learning about music, but she's still a 16-year-old girl who's never had this kind of attention from a male before.
The timing of the magazine backing off couldn't be worse: the event Johanna's been fearing finally happens, and the family is being investigated by the welfare organization that keeps them afloat.
Almost as bad, her brother Krissi, with whom she shares a room, lets on that he knows that she's not, um, scratching herself night after night. But that turns into a good thing: Krissi talks his parents into letting him move into the unused dining room, and Johanna suddenly has a writing space all her own.
The music magazine finally agrees to give her another chance, she meets John Kite again and realizes the awful truth that he treats a lot of people the way he treats her, and she understands that it's not puff pieces that will make her writing career, but witheringly angry putdowns instead.
And thus endeth this week's section.
Mostly I really liked it. I feel very maternal about Johanna at this point--she's dealing with a whole load of personal issues, enough that they would overwhelm anyone, and she's only 16. She could so easily go completely bad, or become an addict, or some other traumatic path. But she's also got some smarts and some goals, and I really hope she doesn't.
That said, Moran did another change of tense in this section that really annoyed me. We have Johanna in the present tense, thrilled with her first airplane experience, and the very next scene, which comes after the flight, is a past-tense flashback. This is sloppy and lazy and seems to have been done only to give Moran the ability to use Johanna's voice from a more knowledgeable future time: "This was, clearly, where business would be conducted--but this was also the theater of the human heart, where all things happened and all things would be revealed, given the fullness of time." That's not something a 16-year-old would say. I can't help but think that if Moran was an unknown writer, an editor somewhere would have slapped her wrist and said, "Choose one or the other, but you can't have both. It doesn't work."
But it's not a deal-breaker, at least not so far. My thanks to Emily and to HarperCollins for including me on this fun read-along.