Girl Online by Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella) - book review: A cautionary tale from the blogosphere

Girl Online follows a typical girl-meets-boy storyline with a few 21st-century twists

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The Independent Culture

In the furore surrounding Zoe Sugg's novel, little has been said about the book itself – but for a work of young adult fiction that is fun and relatable while also having a positive message, it is difficult to fault.

A week after the release of the book, which has become the UK's fastest-selling debut novel in history, it emerged that Sugg – who goes by the name of Zoella to her legions of fans – did not in fact write the novel herself. The 24-year-old has since been called a hypocrite for making a career out of imploring young girls to be themselves, only to then put her name to a ghostwritten book.

Girl Online follows a typical girl-meets-boy storyline with a few 21st-century twists. The "girl online" is Penny – a clumsy, anxious but thoroughly likeable lead character who struggles with panic attacks that have plagued her since she was involved in a car crash.

Like all teenagers today, Penny has to deal with the cripplingly awkward period of young adolescence while also coping with her life being broadcast online. She struggles with growing up in a world where her friends post bitchy comments on her blog and publish a video of her accidentally flashing her knickers during the school play. Her blog is the only place where she feels safe to open up to the world – but she learns the hard way that it's not where personal secrets should be shared.

After falling in love with a boy called Noah on holiday in New York, she returns home to find that he is, in fact, a famous musician with a huge YouTube following – and a girlfriend. Her supposed best female friend leaks her relationship with Noah to an online celebrity news site and her blog goes viral. Penny vows never to write on her blog again.

Penny's best male friend is her next door neighbour Elliot, who is rejected by his father after coming out to his family. The pair mock Elliot's dad's comments that you can "grow out of being gay".

Parents at Sugg's recent book signings said they would prefer their daughters to look up to Zoella rather than modern pop stars, and reading this book it is easy to understand why. But while Girl Online does teach sound advice to teenagers about being cautious of their online activity, it often seems at odds with Sugg's own stratospheric YouTube career. Zoella has found fame and fortune in sharing personal details on the internet, and it is inevitable that Girl Online readers will still look up to her over Penny.

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