I had no idea Girl Online would take off the way it has—I can’t believe I now have 5432 followers, thanks so much!—and the thought of opening up to you all about this is terrifying, but here goes…
Penny has a secret.
Under the alias Girl Online, 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.
To say the book wasn’t my cup of tea would be an understatement. It was extremely childish and predictable, filled with clichés and two-dimensional characters. This may be because I am not exactly at the age of her target audience, but I do remember reading something with more depth when I was a preteen, so I could safely say that my younger self wouldn’t have liked it either.
The Writing Even an ESL Can’t Appreciate
I actually listened to the audiobook when I was cooking or grocery shopping (uni life is hard). From what I heard about the excessive use of exclamation marks , I would say the audiobook made me dislike the writing less. This book resembles a badly written fanfiction more than a YA novel. English may not be my first language, but at least I know that”walking selfie” and “cringe-fact” are not proper English words. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zoe wrote the book by herself with on extra help as an inexperienced author, but I certainly expected better from a ghost-writer.
The characters in Girl Online were a collective of high-school drama archetypes: the awkward protagonist with tonnes of teen-aged non-problems, the hot mean girl who the protagonist desperately hated yet desperately tried to please, the disposable crush, the mysterious crush, the gay best friend and the cool parents. Just the perfect formula for a cliché story. I personally couldn’t relate to any of the characters, much less the protagonist herself.
It is astonishing how unrealistic and cardboard Penny is even though she was written based on Zoe herself. I don’t mind authors writing characters based on themselves, but I do expect characters that are based on real people to be at least realistic and relatable. Unfortunately, Penny wasn’t a realistic, relatable or interesting character. Her entire existent is defined not by what she can do but what she doesn’t have: self-esteem, self-worth, physical coordination, maturity, independence, common sense, intelligence, and so on. Her whole purpose is to get people (especially boys) to validate her existence. When things didn’t work out, she simply hopped on a plane and flew off to another country, very mature. There is no way she is in year 11 with that level of maturity. Give teenagers some credit, they are not that stupid.
Even though it is admirable that Zoe included a gay character, Elliot existed as nothing more than a “gay best friend” stereotype. He is supposed to be the voice of reason in Penny’s life. I applauded him when he pointed out that she couldn’t have fell in love with someone she just met, but that didn’t last long either. His jealousy was what finally ruined his character. I simply can’t imagine a 16-year-old guy getting jealous over something as petty as his best friend having a boyfriend and didn’t pay as much attention to him anymore. Everyone in this book sounded at least 10 years younger than they are supposed to be, except for Noah and his sister who sounded way too mature for their age.