Friday, 2 January 2015

Book Review: 'Girl Online' by Zoe Sugg

Zoe Sugg's debut novel 'Girl Online' has been the topic of much discussion and controversy over the past month. After becoming the best-selling hardcover novel of 2014, it was confirmed that the Youtuber actually used a ghost-writer. The book and the drama surrounding it have received a very mixed reception. Admittedly, I had very low expectations as I'm a few years older than the target demographic and I don't watch Zoella's videos. Everyone talking about it intrigued me, and alas I downloaded the book onto my Kindle and gave it a go.

It tells the story of a 15-year-old girl called Penny who writes an anonymous blog. She gets the chance to visit New York with her wedding planner parents and best friend, Elliot, and falls in love with American Noah whilst there.

Whilst it isn't the worst book in the world, there's a lot that could be improved on it. At times, the plot was incredibly unrealistic. From the dialogue to how quickly she falls in love, a lot of elements of the story are very unlike how the everyday 15-year-old would speak or act. She and Elliot come up with silly nicknames such as "Mega-Dull" for their enemies, and their texting conversations are nothing like how a typical teenager would converse. Everything in the story is so undeniably cute: indoor picnic dates with fairy lights; a Downton Abbey themed wedding; even a simple errand to pick up a tiara for the wedding results in a candlelit dinner in a pretty, artistic Italian restaurant. Things go just a bit too perfectly for Penny to keep up any realism. She is given complete freedom roaming a city in a country she's never visited with a boy she's never met and (spoiler alert) when her family has to stay in New York for longer than expected, they are welcomed by Noah's family to stay with them, and the couple spend a romantic Christmas together.

The plot also seems to drag at points. For a story of approximately 80,000 words, not much actually happens. After flying out to New York, there are chapters of long-winded descriptions of Penny's outings with Noah and her feelings of falling in love (spoiler: these feelings are vividly described a measly few hours after meeting him). Everything is a bit too predictable, with the exception of the twist in one of the last chapters. Even that, however, turns out to be painfully unrealistic and 'cute'.

Of course, not everything can be criticised. Zoe (or the ghost-writer) depicts the theme of anxiety very well. For such a common mental illness, it is rarely spoken about in fiction. The age group 'Girl Online' is aimed at is very impressionable, and for any who are suffering with these issues it teaches them that it is normal, and it's a good idea to confide in people about it. It's also a very easy read: it only took a few hours to finish despite being a 350 page book, and didn't require much thinking. 

There have been debates all over the internet about whether this is a good book for young people to be reading due to its average quality, but if anyone who doesn't normally read picks it up and finishes it then it definitely isn't a bad thing.

Overall, 'Girl Online' was very Zoella. It was a dreamy love story and in all honesty was neither a compelling plot or well-written novel. The younger reader may appreciate the simplicity of the book, but it definitely would not have sold as many copies as it has or received the rave reviews that it has if it didn't have the Zoella brand plastered all over it.

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