Before I begin, I should probably admit that binge watching Zoella videos, particularly her vlogs, is my guilty pleasure. I’m a fan of her as a YouTuber and genuinely do enjoy watching her life unfold through her camera. However, she never particularly struck me as the bookworm type, so when I heard she was writing a book, even more surprisingly a fictional one, I was shocked and a little sceptical.
Zoe Sugg faced an onslaught of negative reaction as soon as she announced her first book, excluding her loyal fans and fellow YouTube stars, of course. She was automatically dubbed as ‘just another one of those author-wannabe YouTuber’s’, exploiting her fans for even more money by following unimaginative trends. Once book one was released, this negativity was amplified. Even when you typed ‘Zoella girl online’ in on the Twitter search bar, tweets from her actual fans were lost in a sea of cynical, scornful comments from those who couldn’t bear the thought that her books were, and still are, in shop windows for everyone to see. This negativity is to be expected, and can be understood. A YouTuber does not have to be particularly good at writing, yet their books will continue to be purchased worldwide and will still sell out in bookshops. This is hard to see for talented authors who are struggling to catch a break in the writing industry. On top of this, there were whispers about Zoella employing a ghostwriter to write her books for her. While unsurprising due to her seemingly unrelenting schedule, which appears to be back to back meetings and secret projects (according to her vlogs), this disappointed fans and made those who were already hesitant even more doubtful to buy her book.
For those of you who have not read the book, the blurb is as follows:
Penny has a secret.
Under the alias GirlOnline, she blogs about school dramas, boys, her mad, whirlwind family – and the panic attacks she’s suffered from lately. When things go from bad to worse, her family whisks her away to New York, where she meets the gorgeous, guitar-strumming Noah. Suddenly Penny is falling in love – and capturing every moment of it on her blog.
But Noah has a secret too. One that threatens to ruin Penny’s cover – and her closest friendship – forever
As you can see, the plot makes for a very standard YA novel. And when you actually read it, you can see it’s just that. Personally, what is missing for me in this book is Zoe’s own personal writing style. The way she, or should I say the ghostwriter, writes is not very well developed and a little frivolous. There are also a lot of moments that I find eye-rollingly cringe worthy. For example, the way that the characters address each other. She makes them sound as if they are wooden, and every conversation is either maddeningly polite or ends in a life lesson. This is not an accurate depiction of real life, and therefore takes away from the realness and reliability. But it’s not all bad. I cannot deny Zoe’s success in putting across the affects of anxiety and panic attacks, and raising awareness for mental health issues. This of course draws on her own experiences with anxiety, and shows that what is described is therefore an accurate and genuine depiction of how panic attacks work. Zoe’s inclusion of a same-sex relationship also shows that this is a progressive novel that not only tackles the stigma of mental health issues, but also the problems that can come with being on the LGBT spectrum. Whilst reading, I noticed that there are multiple examples of her own life being reflected in the story, such as protagonist Penny’s best friend Elliot, who is speculated to be Zoe’s best friend in reality, Mark Ferris. It is up to you to decide whether this mixing of the fictional and non fictional makes for a more personable story, or if it simply displays her lack of imagination to come up with her own characters.
My incentive for continuing to read Penny’s story into the second and third books comes purely from the engaging plot. Yes, the plots of all three books can be predictable and cliché, but at the same time have genuinely gripped me and really made me want to proceed reading on. Zoe did not promise that these books would be complex, philosophical novels that you can’t help but think about for days after reading it, so it is unfair to hold them up to those kinds of standards. For a bit of an easy, light read, I would recommend the Girl Online trilogy. If you are looking for something more stimulating however, I would look elsewhere.
THANK YOU FOR READING!