I traveled to Slovakia (and Austria and the Czech Republic) last May. Because I am a bookworm, and I was traveling with bookworms, I spent the majority of the trip in various bookstores. Most of the books (at least 85%) were in languages I couldn’t read. However, there were English books, and one in particular kept popping up. It was a new release and prominently displayed everywhere. I picked it up, skimmed it, wanted to buy it. I told myself I didn’t need to load my already crammed suitcase down with another book. I told myself I had books with me already. I told myself a book this prominent in Eastern Europe would definitely be at my local library.
But, oh, how I wanted it.
However, for once in my life I paid attention to my pocket book and didn’t get it. I returned home and almost immediately searched my local library for the book. They didn’t have it. I tried an inter-library search. No one had it. I went to Barnes and Noble. They only carried the sequel. Finally, I gave up and almost forgot about it. Until, last week. I searched my local library for the book, just in case, and they had it!
It almost took a year, but I can now say with great satisfaction that I have read Girl Online by Zoe Sugg.
After all that effort, it is a pity the book was so awful. I’m talking seriously stupid. 28 pages in I didn’t want to finish it. I forced myself to keep going, growing more and more incredulous. ‘It can’t be that bad…?’ It was. ‘It must improve at some point…?’ It didn’t.
It is only March, but Girl Online is in the running for Most Disappointing Book of 2016 (and possibly 2015, too!)
The story is narrated by Penny, an average-ish, clumsy, camera obsessed, British teenager. Her awkwardness and complete lack of social…anything cause many embarrassing moments which she processes through her anonymous online blog, Girl Online. While this novel attempts to portray Penny as a strong, changing character, her melodramatic and shallow outlook quickly grow irritating. Her character change is instantaneous and unbelievable, usually motivated by a hot guy.
Girl Online is full of stock characters, almost like the author thought she was writing a Disney Channel movie. Clumsy main character who doesn’t see her own beauty? Check. Very gay best friend? Check. Evil ex-best friend? Check. Hot, popular, beach blond guy who flirts with the heroine to get something? Check-check. Quirky, unexpected boy who gives the heroine confidence? Check. Throw in a zany, understanding family and few million OMGs and you get the idea.
The writing is extremely juvenile. Penny comes across more tween than fifteen. She finds a boy and instantly starts writing drivel about “soulmates” and how even though she doesn’t know about Noah, she knows him. About, oooh, three days after meeting him, she presents this list to the world at large to prove their soulmate-ness.
“Even though I’ve only known him for a few days, in many ways, in important ways, it feels like I’ve known him forever.
So, I still don’t know who his favorite band is, or his favorite flavor ice cream, but I do know that I can tell him anything.
And I know that I can cry in front of him and show him my weak side and I know that he won’t judge me at all.
And I know that he can cry in front of me and show me his weak side and I won’t judge him either – it just makes me like him even more.
It’s so hard to describe how I am feeling. The best way to put it is that when I’m with him I feel like I’ve met my matching person.
Like Cinderella and Prince Charming.
Or Barbie and Ken.”
If that doesn’t make you shudder, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. I really, really hoped this part would turn out to be ironic and the story would present a good, solid message about high school romances and how you should not put all your hope and adoration into one person. I thought maybe Penny would realize that meeting random guys and driving around NYC with them is a bad idea, or that her parents might actually start to worry about their 15-year-old spending so much time with an 18-year-old. But of course not. This book remains as lovelorn and shallow as when it began.
In fact, it gets worse. I won’t give away the ending but it is pretty evident if you read the book what is going on. Misunderstanding leads to entirely foreseeable complications and even more predictable solutions.
I mainly kept reading because of the debacle to get the book. There were a few scenes that made me chuckle, such as:
“If you could invite any fictional character to a picnic, who would it be?”
I instantly smile. Noah’s random questions are definitely great icebreakers. “Augustus Waters from The Fault in our Stars,” I say. “So I could bring him back to life.”
“Great answer,” Noah says. “I’d bring back that sappy guy from Twilight – so I could kill him.”
However, amusing scenes were few and far between, caught up in sappy, teeny bopper fantasy. Unfortunately, even this scene illustrates one of the book’s great weaknesses: a reliance on pop culture. Justin Bieber, 1D, Angelina Jolie, even the pretentious Augustus Waters, get a mention. It seriously dates the book and will quickly drop Girl Online into obscurity (probably for the better.)
I might have enjoyed the book more if I were able to take Penny’s blog posts seriously. “Soulmate” moments aside, the use of texting and blog posts carried an interesting element. Her posts, though, tended towards the vague and upbeat and it was hard to understand how she garnered so many followers so fast. On top of that, ambiguous stories about anxiety and facing fears have people cheering like Penny has done something amazing. Said people then take her words and find the courage to do great things themselves. It was difficult even for my suspension of disbelief.
A lot of things were difficult to believe. It never made sense why Penny, who has an encouraging and understanding family, never first went to her parents with her problems. They usually ended up finding out and providing counsel and help. Why doesn’t she just start there when things go bad?
The crowning horror of this novel, however, came when the Penny explains why she can’t wear green:
“Whenever I wear green, I have the horrible feeling that I might look just like a walking Christmas decoration.”
Because she is a redhead…get it? Yeah, me neither.
Overall, a shallow, teenybopper novel that could have been so much more. Definitely a good thing I didn’t buy it on my international adventure. I’m not entirely opposed to sappy, I can stand teenybopper, but my incredulity was strained too much to make this one worth the time.