Despite the fact that much of my work is online-based, and that I’m an active member of a number of online communities, I had never heard of Zoe Sugg or ‘Zoella’ before reading Girl Online. It turns out that Zoe Sugg, from Brighton in the U.K. known as ‘Zoella’ to her readers, is quite the Vlogger super star.
Sugg has nearly 7 million subscribers to her Youtube channel, 2.75 million Twitter followers and over 2 million likes on her official Facebook page… It’s safe to say that this 24 year old blogger is doing pretty well for herself, especially now she’s landed a two book deal with Penguin.
Her first novel Girl Online was released in November 2014, to reach a New York Times best-seller status within weeks (selling over 78,000 hardback copies in the first week alone).
Girl Online follows the story of Penny, a teenage girl who has turned to blogging to help her through the roller coaster years of adolescence. Penny and her best friend Elliot are inseparable as they face the challenges of a high school play, parental expectations and trips abroad. Tackling a number of themes increasingly relevant to today’s youth such as cyber bullying, coming to terms with sexual orientation, out-growing friendships and experiencing first love, Girl Online is a perfect entry point for young teenage girls looking to test the waters of YA romance.
Every time you post something online you have a choice.
You can either make it something that adds to the happiness levels in the world - or you can make it something that takes away" - Zoe Sugg, Girl Online.
Although I felt a little underwhelmed in Sugg’s G-rated blogger-meets-boy saga, it did raise some important issues, particularly for young people just starting to use social media and blogs. Sugg does a solid job of showing just how quickly followers and 'friends' can turn into 'haters', without having heard both sides to a story. However, as a more mature reader, I would have liked the issues explored in more depth - perhaps with some references to recent current events, as well as the risk and permanence of publishing content online.
Girl Online would be appealing to young girls from the age of 11 - 16, but as an older reader it felt a little sugar-coated and predictable.
Despite the simplicity of the story line, and my desire for more depth and info regarding Penny’s blog and her miraculous increase in followers, I couldn’t help but let Girl Online pull me along with ease. It was a pleasant read. Definitely one for the little sisters.
While the above sums up what I thought about the novel itself, I feel as though I cannot end this review without referring to the hype and rumours that emerged shortly after Girl Online shot to success... It has recently been revealed that Sugg's first novel is not entirely her own work. Penguin released the following statement:
The factual accuracy of the matter is simply that Zoe Sugg did not write Girl Online on her own... For her first novel, Girl Online, Zoe has worked with an expert editorial team to help her bring to life her characters and experiences in a heartwarming and compelling story.”
Although ghostwriting is nothing new, especially in the era of celebrity-turned-author, I still found this revelation a little disheartening. No doubt Sugg has put thousands of hours into her blog and social media, and has worked incredibly hard to get where she is, but Girl Online was now, at least in my eyes, simply a financially-savvy move by Penguin; knowing just how many followers and subscribers of Sugg's would flock to the nearest Waterstones to buy it. While Sugg has maintained that the characters and story are her own, it leaves Girl Online in a strange space on the shelf. It's not entirely ghostwritten, but there's no cited co-author either.
For the most part, I doubt this will be an issue for its younger readers, but as a recent publishing graduate and an author myself, it certainly leaves me feeling a little conflicted.