One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!
‘Girl Online’ is the debut novel by Youtuber and blogger Zoe Sugg. As I enjoy watching her videos I expected to be entertained by the book, but wasn’t holding out for a great literary work because of Sugg’s inexperience. This is actually the second time I’ve read ‘Girl Online’ and I was just as impressed the second time around. Yes, the writing could be improved, but that will come in time- (because I hope she will write more!) What Sugg has presented is a classic teenage love story- with the added benefit of very real pertinent issues in our time.
Penny Porter is just a regular teenager living in Brighton, England. She – like many teenagers has pimples, feels pressure to ‘be cool,’ and has a crush on that popular guy. She’s dealing with anxiety brought on by a car accident she was in with her family. In order to get all of her feelings out she starts a blog under the name of ‘Girl Online’ and chronicles events from her life anonymously. There she is able to talk about her anxiety, clumsiness, embarrassments, as well as her feelings as she grows apart from her best (girl) friend. Her best (guy) friend Elliot, (who happens to be gay) helps her with her anxiety and is her rock until it becomes to much to hide. He is her ally at school where it seems anything embarrassing that could happen does- plus some!
Penny’s parents run a wedding shop in town and they are hired to organize a wedding in New York over Christmas. In New York, Penny meets Noah, the grandson of Sadie Lee who is the caterer for the wedding. Penny and Noah instantly click. By the end of the next day they are falling for each other. It’s fast yes- but this is a YA novel. All is normal. Penny’s parents are hired for another event closer to New Year’s so they are all to stay on. Penny is ecstatic as she will be able to spend more time (and Christmas!) with Noah, but Elliot has to go back home. Issues surrounding this plus Penny’s blog post about Noah before she could talk to Elliot put a strain on their relationship. Penny spends a wonderful extra week with Noah – by this time she knows he accepts her for who she is. He doesn’t judge her or laugh at her like some of the kids at school. He shares his fears and can cry in front of her. They are forming a connection, and although it is SO fast, Sugg makes it believable. When Penny and her parents have to head back home they ‘like each other so much it might even be love.’
Penny and Elliot make up when she gets home, and things are looking up until her old crush (the popular guy) comes by and says he finally likes her too. As she’s getting rid of him he recognizes a picture of Noah that Penny has taken and then it all comes out that Noah is actually a new, fairly well-known singer and supposedly has a superstar girlfriend. Penny is inevitably crushed. How could Noah have lied to her? What happens next is my favorite part of the book. *Somehow* it comes out that Penny has been seeing Noah and her blog and identity are exposed. Sugg details how the internet blows up and how the hate that Penny receives effects her. An embarrassing video of Penny surfaces, gossip mags want to pay her money for her 15 seconds of fame, and worst of all she has disappointed the fans of her blog. It’s a very real look at the dirty underbelly of the internet shown by someone who has seen it all. Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, currently has over seven million subscribers on her YouTube channel alone.
I won’t ruin the ending for you, but it wraps up in what I consider to be a pretty perfect way. We have closure, Penny has a new found confidence and she hears Noah’s side of the story. Although the writing is amateurish, it does not distract from the book at all. I actually think it adds to the story. Penny’s growth over the course of the book is very inspiring to read- I imagine especially for young girls. She goes from being wracked with anxiety and fear to being comfortable in her own skin, and happy with her looks because it is what makes her special. This book manages to tackle so many issues like anxiety, loss of friendship, bullying, homosexuality, teenage love, and the bad side of the internet with grace and understanding. In the end I’m entertained, inspired, and I want to know what happens next. I for one hope Sugg writes a sequel because we all need to hear the rest of Penny and Noah’s story. She should be proud of her first novel, it is a brilliant debut.
Click here to see my goals for 2015