Friday, 23 January 2015

Girl Online, by Zoe Sugg

Girl Online
Hmm. I'm keen to avoid the ghost writer controversy and weird Internet-fuelled crazy that surrounds this book. So baggage aside- you can't really ignore 2014s biggest selling debut can you? Or, for that matter, one of the bestselling debuts of all time. So then, let’s judge the book not for its author's background, which I can't pretend to be well versed in, or its origins or its blog-superfan-base, but for its merits as a novel. Girl Online then. Well, for the most part, it's just bad. This book made me angry. It made me want to shut my blog down, just in case the populace starts to wonder if that's what bloggers are like.

The narrator, Penny, is a 15 year old schoolgirl from Brighton. She's clumsy and insecure. Did I mention her clumsiness? Get ready for her to talk about how clumsy she is. You won't see her being clumsy much, but she'll keep telling you. She has been the author of a blog (Girl Online) for the last year, feeling that the internet is a safe zone where she can truly be herself, speak her mind and anonymously exorcise her demons. She's one of those "Traditionally beautiful but doesn't know it therefore has low self-esteem" characters. Being 15 is tough, what with the expectations, the embarrassment, the boy stuff and the confusing mutations of former best friends into malicious uber-cows. Penny has a bit of a school-play night disaster episode that goes viral on the Internet thanks to aforementioned super-cow, probably the only example of actual clumsiness in the whole book. Following this immense embarrassment and betrayal she has escaped to New York for a few days with her parents (Wedding planners) and her trivia-filled super-dresser best friend Elliott. 

Some parts of this book I found to be beyond impossible to stomach. At one point I was convinced I had diabetes of the eyes; the cupcakes, the vanilla scented candles, the milkshakes and fairy lights. It got dangerously frothy from chapter one. Once Penny got to New York it got worse, if anything. Overused phrases include, but are not limited to; Quirky, "styling out", vintage, "Auburn curls", retro...etc etc. The author feels the need to describe everything in great, but not particularly interesting detail lest we forget how our protagonist has an eye for the eccentric. I felt quite overwhelmed by the description for most of the novel; the plushness of the hotel, the hotness of Rock-God Noah, dad's amazing breakfasts, the megacrazyawesomeness of New York, the lights, the moon…I kept waiting for something of substance, some take-home message but there really, really isn't one.

On the plus side, I liked Elliott- he was supportive and funny, but he was quite two-dimensional and I was just dying for some real development of his character. He felt like the only character that had his head in the real world. I kept wishing that the author would stop describing his ‘vintage’(vintage, vintage, vintage) outfits and talk about something that matters, something that made us understand him better. Oh and he's gay, so don't think this is going to be another clichéd "true love was right there all along" deals. Not that it's short on cliché. No the cliché comes in the shape of guitar playing, leather jacket wearing, super-sensitive, soul-mate companion of quirk, Noah. Elliott kind of got forgotten for a huge chunk of the book in favour of musical dream-boat Noah though. I finished this book convinced Penny didn't even come close to deserving a friend like Elliott, she is Narcissus in lipgloss.

There are occasional laughs and a few acceptable moments but when all's said and done it's a frothy, clunkily written (the adverbs. Oh dear GOD the adverbs…) and unbelievably shallow offering, measuring a person's worth in follows, likes, comments and shares rather than by the depth of their character or by their previous actions. Penny constantly neglects her true friends, craving instead attention from internet randomers and tousle haired Brooklyn boys. It seems to say that a person is not a whole person, is not the master of their own destiny unless they have a "cute boy" that makes them feel good, the "quirkier" the better, because that makes them seem less shallow, right? It feels thrown together- the adorkable clutz feels lifted from Mia from The Princess Diaries meets the bloggy-columnist Carrie Bradshaw and the Internet life vs real life of Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. Then there's the predictable straight line plot, the New York fairytale that goes horribly wrong; lesson learned but it's OK in the end, seen over and over again in so many crappy romcoms I can't even count.

It really is an incredibly shallow and self indulgent novel. Penny seems to consider herself some sort of internet saviour, 'inspiring' the lost and unhappy of the world to confront their fears. Look at how good and inspiring I am, words written by little old me are having such a profound impact on people. I'm so special and insightful. Validate me. Let me photograph these things because I am into the superficial. Then I can describe them. The more I read of it the more I despaired. When it all inevitably goes wrong and her blog stardom comes back to bit her on her vanilla coated behind, I couldn't help feeling that cosmic justice had been done. Her attitude to her backlash annoyed me too- it was very much along the lines of "I have the right to put myself out there on the Internet and live my life (anonymously) right in front of you, but you don't have the right to judge it, only to suck up to me or substantiate me in some way".

I'm not going to recommend this. I'd recommend that anybody wanting to read this book reads something else. Read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell instead- that has a brilliant protagonist that blossoms through hard work and passion for what she's good at, learns lessons about love and family and trust and finds the balance between her online and real world lives.

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