WARNING! This post contains spoilers from the book Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. Proceed with caution.
This is all just my personal opinion. Don’t hate.
Yes, I know I’m jumping on the band wagon a little late here, as Girl Online has been out for ages and now even the second one is coming out, but I have only just gotten around to reading it. So chill.
First, a brief summary of Girl Online. Penny – the protagonist- is a teenager who starts blogging. She suffers a humiliating experience at school, so goes to America with her family and her friend Elliot, to get away from it all. She then meets a mysterious boy called Noah. And things get pretty interesting. Throughout the story, Penny struggles with anxiety, friendships, relationships and also the perils of the media.
Girl Online was a unique read to me in several ways. For starters, it is the first book I’ve ever read as an audiobook. (Click to read my review of audible.) Secondly, it’s the first book I’ve read by a YouTuber, and finally, it’s the first book I’ve read knowing it was written by a ghost writer.
So let’s delve right into that. To get to the actual review, skip the next four paragraphs. For my thoughts on ghost-writing, youtubers, and what went on with Zoella, continue reading.
It all came out that Zoe Sugg aka popular YouTuber Zoella, had used a ghost-writer*. This is a very controversial topic. It was like a scandal and a lot of people got upset about it. I think all the kerfuffle came about because the book was marketed like she had written it herself. If it had been clear that she had a ghost-writer, or that she co-wrote it with someone, it wouldn’t have seemed like she kind of lied. Maybe? I don’t know. Some of the fans were a bit … perturbed. But in fact, lots of authors use ghost-writers, you just don’t know about it. And all the original ideas were still hers. The characters, the plot, etc., She just didn’t do the actual writing it all down on the page.
Personally, I think that using a ghost-writer is not the best thing. People think it’s like cheating. Is it? Also, ghost-writers really get the short end of the stick. All the work, no recognition. Sad. but that’s another story. I would say, if you’re not particularly good at writing, don’t write a book! Or at least work with another person OPENLY. Collaborate. One person has the ideas, and the other has the sentence structure, and the verbs. I don’t know. I’m not hating on Zoella at all, don’t get me wrong. I really like her. And she may have been wanted to write a book for years and years, I don’t know. Just the way she handled it could have been better.
Using a ghost-writer is not the case for all youtubers, I know. For example, I am a fan of Cutiepiemarzia, she is one of my favourite youtubers. I’m pretty sure she wrote her book herself, and has always been interested in writing. But because of the Zoella thing, some people don’t believe her when she says that she hasn’t used a ghost writer, which is a shame. Still, I’m very excited to read her book when I can get it. It’s called Dream House (a psychological horror) and sounds really interesting.
A lot of youtubers are writing books now, whether its fiction or autobiographical. It’s like a trend. I have mixed feelings about this. I think it’s good that they’re trying to reach the world through a different media, but I think that they’re only writing books because they already have a fan base and publishers know the books going to sell. I think this was the case with Zoella. It’s a great achievement for her, don’t get me wrong. She obviously still put a lot of work into it and writing a book is not an easy thing. But just based on the fact that she has millions of subscribers, should she get the chance to publish a book? Economically, I see why. But Morally- no? Thousands of aspiring authors get turned down every day, and ‘internet famous’ people, and celebrities as well, get an automatic deal. I think this is a grey area. Life is unfair, I know. But I don’t have to be happy with it. I think that, for me, you should read a book because you’re interested in the story; in the actual book.
Phew. Now let’s get on to the actual review. Here’s the verdict- I enjoyed Girl Online. I thought the characters were well written and clear. It’s like a typical young adult book, but in the foreground is a heavy focus on modern technologically and the internet. Most prominently, social media and cyberbullying. This is mixed with themes of friendship and romance, while exploring areas like facing your fears and loving who you are.
In some ways I thought the plot was a little predictable. Like in the end when Noah comes back, they both explain, and all is forgiven. But I guess it needed a happy ending. Also, the whole he’s-not-who-he says-he-is, thing. And the fact that he turns out to be a famous singer made me roll my eyes at first. Can’t anyone be a just normal guy in fiction? But, in other cases it surprised me. I loved the chapters where it shows her blogging. Structurally, I felt it really split up the narrative and made it more exciting and fun. It was a very easy read (well listen, as I used Audible.) But because of this, the writing was basic, like any nondescript young adult novel. There seemed to be no distinct style or voice in the writing. Probably because it was written by a ghost-writer. I feel like it could have been written by anyone….I don’t know. That’s not necessarily bad thing, it made the book fast paced and it flowed well. The primary storyline of the book is Penny’s relationship with Noah, but it also includes her facing anxiety issues and panic attacks, and becoming more confident.
I thought Noah- the love interest – was a little too perfect. I know. Like everything he said was a bit cheesy? He seemed too nice, too open and too often sharing his feelings. Maybe he’s not very realistic. They literally spent a day together and they’re talking about all their deep, sad secrets and problems and are already falling in love with each other. I know they obviously ‘had a connection’ and I know this isn’t real life. It just seemed too perfect, as I said. I thought they were very cute and wanted them to get together, but….meh. I couldn’t grasp his character. He didn’t seem real, because what are his flaws? Of course, apart from lying to Penny about his fame and phony relationship to another musician. But that’s just a mistake. Bad judgment. I mean, what are his actual character flaws. I can’t think of any. Can you?
Some characters are very one sided in my opinion, like Megan. She is the character you have to hate. There were points when I was reading it and I just wanted Penny to slap her. Too harsh? I agree with the nickname Elliot gives her – ‘Megabitch’ but surely, someone can’t be all horrible, selfish and cruel? Does she have any redeeming qualities at all? I’d like to see just something slight. Something to make her more human and complex. This is not a major complaint. Only a little niggle. I suppose we might not see any positive aspects of Megan because the story is told through penny, who probably would only see her bad side. As an unreliable narrator, we could conclude that we are only hearing her perspective and her side of events. But whatever. It is her story.
I loved the fact that Zoe Sugg choose to include mental health issues in Girl Online. There is a sort of taboo with this topic in society, but nowadays, many people suffer with varying degrees of mental illness. Especially young people in their teens. In the book, Penny suffers from panic attacks after a traumatic car accident and she leans learns some techniques to help her deal with it. This might help people reading the book too. I know Zoe herself has struggled with anxiety for a long time and I think that by including it in her novel, it’s taking a small step to normalise mental illness and help people understand it more. Which is great.
Why has this book done so well? Am I just the minority, in thinking there was something slightly lacking? I don’t know. Here’s my theory. I think the key to its success (aside from the popularity of the author) is that it’s a very current and relevant book. For instance, the focus on the internet. The youth of today run their live around the internet, and the novel reflects that. Unfortunately, I don’t think this book will last. Down the line, in 10 or 20 years or so, some young girl might pick this up and not understand some of the references. I think it mentions snapchat or Instagram at some point, or something like that. These sites might not be around then, or be popular. And the readers won’t know what they are. That’s the price of being current now- it will be weird in the future. I remember when I was younger and was reading a Cathy Cassidy book- I think it was Gingersnaps. It had a reference to the spice girls. I kind of knew who they were, but it was weird. That might not be the case with Girl Online. We’ll see! (Oh, I used to LOVE Cathy Cassidy books by the way. They are great for a younger audience. Think pre/early teens.) Of course, another reason why Girl Online has done so well, is because of the huge target market, teenage girls, And this books fits the bill very well. It addresses issues that they are currently experiencing and feelings they can relate to. Plus, isn’t it every young girls’ dream to have a rock star boyfriend? Hello, escapism.
I definitely enjoyed Girl Online, and would recommend it, but for me, it’s not a standout book. It’s probably better for young teens. Maybe somewhere between 12-15 years old? That’s a random guess. I only became interested because off all the fuss about it. While it’s a pretty good book, and I liked it, it didn’t grab me or leave any sort of mark. Usually after finishing a very good book or TV show, I am stunned fro a little bit and sad that it’s over. I sit there and soak it all in. Almost like a period of reflection or mourning, even. Seriously! That’s how invested I can get. But I didn’t get that with this book. And that’s how I know I wasn’t really loving it. I was just like ‘Oh, that’s the end? Okay then.’
However, this book is inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I’d always wanted to do it, but this gave me the push. So if it were not for Girl Online, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Definitely worth a read.
- I feel bad for ghost-writers.
- Famous youtubers are lucky,
- Guys are not that perfect,
- and Girl Online is good, but not great.
*if you didn’t know, a ghost writer is someone who writes the book for you, but they are not revealed to the public. They are unknown. hence the name ‘ghost’.
What do you think about Girl Online? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And I would love any recommendations of books to read.
I hope you enjoyed this post.
Thanks for reading.