Girl Online- Zoe Sugg
By now, everybody knows that Zoella's novel was ghostwritten and that the ghostwriter is Siobhan Curham, so this will be a strange review to write. For clarity, I will just use the phrase "the author", rather than deciding which of the two names to reference.
Girl Online is not an autobiographical text, but the protagonist is a successful young Brighton-based blogger suffering from anxiety. Unlike Zoe, Penny chooses to blog anonymously with only her gay best friend (we'll get on to that in a moment) knowing the truth behind her identity. When the family travel to New York at Christmas, she meets a "Rock-God-tastic" musician named Noah and quickly falls in love. The only problem is, Noah has a (very predictable) secret and the truth will soon come out about Penny's true identity.
To be honest, I'm not the target demographic of Girl Online, so I wasn't expecting to be blown away, although I did read it with an open mind. It wasn't a bad novel in terms of teenage romance fiction and exactly what you would expect- Light, fluffy and predictable with teenage angst and a happy ending. The writing was not awful and there was one moment that made me laugh out loud (it involved a pebble and a dog on the beach).
However, the problems I had with the novel are threefold: The horrendously two-dimensional characters, the inaccurate and improbable internet references, and the misrepresentation of anxiety.
Penny is a supposedly quirky, impossibly clumsy and awkward teenage girl, a clichéd characteristic of any modern protagonist. She likes fairy lights, candles and bath bombs because...awkward teenage girl. Her BFIS (best friend in school, apparently) is Megan, a vacuous, bitchy queen bee who seemingly lives to sabotage everything Penny does, yet still remains her friend. Noah is a cool, modelesque rock star who buys creepy china dolls as a gift and was orphaned after both parents died in a skiing accident, and Penny's family are ridiculously welcoming, even taking her best friend Elliot to New York at Christmas. However, Elliot was the sticking point for me. He is Penny's gay best friend (because what's cooler than using somebody's sexuality as an accessory?) who squeals, jumps in the air, claps his hands together in excitement and throws milkshakes over people. Of course his fashion sense is amazing and he loves Beyonce. Honestly, I have to say I found this overt stereotyping offensive and it does nothing to chip away at preconceived ideas of gay men.
In terms of the inaccuracies, there were some very confusing events that seemed to hint at somebody who is not too aware of how blogging pans out in reality. For example, Penny wrote a post about falling over and gained 800 followers overnight. If only that were possible! Noah turns out to be (spoiler alert) the hottest musical sensation who Megan (Penny's BFIS, remember?) fancies, yet Penny has absolutely no idea who he is. Surely if she was a successful blogger, she would have an understanding of popular youth culture on the internet? Then there are all the clumsy references to Brighton landmarks which just makes me think the author typed in "things to do in Brighton" and squeezed in as many as possible.
Finally, we come on to the anxiety issue. Penny experiences panic attacks and opens up about them online as she cannot face telling anybody in real life. I completely understand this and it's one of the more believable aspects of Penny's character. Until she goes to New York, meets Noah and suddenly everything is ok. Phew! Glad we've found a cure for anxiety!
Although Girl Online does address some powerful issues, I wish they'd been more carefully researched in order to be portrayed realistically. Having said that, there are some strong messages, particularly at the end of the novel when Penny realises that she can't hide from her online scandal and instead faces up to it. I fully support the message that girls should confront their fears in order to defeat them. Overall, while not the best book I've ever read, it's certainly not terrible in terms of the target demographic.