Review: Girl Online by Zoe Sugg

Girl OnlineGirl Online by Zoe Sugg
Published by: Keyword Press on November 25, 2014
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 352
Book Details
Rating: ★★½

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.

Upon starting Girl Online, my first impressions were:

  • This author uses way too many exclamation marks.
  • This book feels extremely childish.

I eventually got over that first point. Well, either I “got over” it or the author stopped using so many exclamation marks… But that second point continued throughout the story.

Maybe part of it is my fault. I feel like a lot of the YA books out there feature 16-18 year old main characters, but they always sound so mature. They could pass for more like 18-20. However, in Girl Online, the main character Penny was only 15… and she sounded like it (if not younger). Everything about her just screamed “child”. It felt like a very young young adult book (or old middle grade). Sometimes she acted more like 13 or 14. The four year old often acted more grown up than Penny did.

So maybe this rating is my fault. At 23, I’m not the target audience, but I read it anyway expecting it to be a bit “older” feeling, like many YA books are. Only it wasn’t.

Penny was almost too clumsy

I think this is one of the reasons why the book felt so childish. Penny was ridiculously clumsy… to the point where I didn’t believe it. I was rolling my eyes.

“It’s at exactly this moment that I fall into a hole. OK, it’s not a big hole and I don’t actually disappear inside it or anything, but I do catch my foot and end up tumbling forward—making me look about as attractive and sophisticated as a Saturday-night drunk. That’s one thing I hate about Brighton, where I live. It seems to be full of holes that exist just for me to fall into!”

“But then, as I gather up mine and Elliot’s coats, I trip on my scarf and crash into a waitress carrying a tray of toasted paninis.”

These are just two examples, but there are SO many more. I even left out the most ridiculous one.

They happened ALL the time. It just got old, you know?

Don’t be an apologetic blogger

I read an awesome post about this lately and sadly I can’t find the URL. Edit: here it is! But the idea is that bloggers shouldn’t apologize for what they write about. This is YOUR blog. Own it. Love it. Don’t apologize for it.

I love that idea, and that’s why I was irked at some of Penny’s blog posts:

“I hope you don’t mind me writing about this. I promise I’ll get back to my usual self next week.”

You don’t need your readers’ permission to write about something. You don’t have to “hope they don’t mind”. You don’t have to promise to “go back to normal” next week. Write about what you want and OWN it. Don’t worry about it fitting your audience or being a good post.

Do people really not know what panic attacks are?

I don’t have panic attacks, so I hope this isn’t insensitive or anything… but do some people really not know what panic attacks are? I’d have thought that the symptoms are pretty clear. Or if not, then a quick Google of the symptoms would immediately lead you to “panic attack”. Surely a blogger is savvy enough to do a quick Google search?

Well, Penny has moments where she feels like the world is closing in on her. She can’t breathe. She feels trapped. She can’t think or process what’s going on. She’s just stuck in this space that feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller.

Sounds like a clear panic attack to me. I found it odd that Penny had no idea what was happening to her, and odder still that she wouldn’t have thought to Google the symptoms. When something weird happens to me, the first thing I do is Google it. 99% of the time I get an immediate answer. And yet, Penny didn’t find out what was happening until she blogged about it. Then:

“In a way, it’s nice to know that ‘panic attacks’ are an actual thing and not just my mind going crazy.”

Really? You didn’t know they were “a thing”?

Childish, childish

The book was RIDDLED with lines, words, and paragraphs that made the whole thing feel childish. It made me think that Penny was actually 13 or at least a pretty immature 15 year old. Here are a few samples:

“I glance at Ollie, wondering if maybe I haven’t woken up yet and everything that’s happened so far has just been a dream. I pinch my leg under the table to check— a little too hard.”

Who ACTUALLY pinches themselves to see if they’re in a dream? Do people really do that?

“I’d expected the skyscrapers but I hadn’t expected them to be quite so sky-scraping.”


As my excitement starts to build, I feel the urge to dance. I grab the remote and turn on the TV. MTV is playing nonstop Christmas tunes. I start dancing around the room to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I dance and dance until I’ve shaken off the horrible residue from my dream. Then I collapse down onto my bed and grin at my doll.
“Happy Christmas,” I whisper to her breathlessly.

Okay, you want to have a dance party? That’s fine. I’m sure people do it. But for me, this was just one more thing that made the book feel childish.

Yep, it’s insta-love

“Then I do look up, and for a split second we’re staring into each other’s eyes. And click—I feel another part of me slotting into place with him.”

Penny and super-handsome-rockstar-dude know each other for like ONE DAY before they’re already wondering how the hell they’ll survive without each other. They start planning their long distance relationship, working out Skype calls and visits… After ONE DAY! Even Penny’s friend catches onto this:

“Then how can you be in love with this guy if you only just met him?”

It was predictable

I don’t always mind a predictable story, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, it didn’t. It was SO OBVIOUS what the ending was going to be, and yet Penny didn’t see it. That’s what frustrated me. The MC was completely blindsided, but I saw it coming a million miles away. I hate being so out of sync with a character.

Penny didn’t learn the lesson I thought she would

This book is about a lot of things, including:

  • Wishing everyone would just be “real” around each other. Don’t pretend. Don’t be fake. Don’t judge.
  • Finding a place where you can be “real” without judgement (blogging).
  • Then, as the book develops, it’s about Penny finding confidence in herself and facing her fears. It’s about her finally being able to be herself.

Here’s the thing. Penny starts Girl Online 100% anonymous. It’s anonymous so that she doesn’t have to be afraid to be herself. She can be completely honest without people she ACTUALLY knows judging her. I get that. She’s afraid to be herself in “real life” so she does it online.

But then the book is all about her facing those fears and finding her confidence in real life. So in the end when View Spoiler »

The writing was inconsistent

I feel like it kept flip flopping. Sometimes it would come off as amateurish (ALL THE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!) and other times it would be alright. Some people suspect this book was ghost written*… I don’t know about that. I’m not going to make any assumptions, but I can see why people would think that. Or at least why they’d suspect it was REALLY heavily edited. The writing just wasn’t consistent. The worst bit by far was the beginning. It’s almost like the author wrote the book and grew/improved as a writer the more she wrote (as the book got to the end) but then never went back and revised the beginning to match her new skills.

* Update: It was pretty much confirmed that it was ghost written.

I don’t know…

All that being said…

This book was flawed. It was imperfect, childish, and predictable. As I said before, maybe part of this is all my fault. I’m not the target audience and I expected this book to be something it didn’t turn out to be at all. I wanted a mature MC but I got a pretty immature one instead. That might be perfectly fine for a 12-16 year old audience, but it wasn’t fine for me. And maybe that’s on ME and not on the author.

But anyway, all that being said, I didn’t hate this book. The beginning did feel very amateurish with the over usage of exclamation marks, but the book got a bit better as it went on. Even though it was full of predictable endings and insta-love, part of me kind of enjoyed it. It was a cute, fluffy read. It’s nothing ground-breaking, nothing intense, nothing soul-shattering, but it was kind of fun and fluffy. Sometimes that’s all you need.

The Verdict


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  1. I’m the same age, and am starting to feel the same way about young adult books. To me, the maturity level of the main character is part of what separates young adult form new adult (in addition to stuff like how explicit it gets).

    I was interested in this book, but between this and finding out that the author lied about it being ghostwritten, I’m turned off.

  2. I’ve been kind of interested in this book since it was released. I don’t watch the author’s Youtube videos or anything like that, but I’m always curious about books written by people who were already well-known in some other way. I’m still not sure if I want to give this one a shot or not.

    About the panic attack thing, I’m wondering if that would be more realistic if you take the author’s age into consideration. I do have panic attacks occasionally, and while I’m not entirely sure when I was able to put a label on what they were, I don’t think I had at fifteen. Mostly I think that back then I just thought that was the way I was or something, but I never bothered to Google it even though I used the Internet a fair bit back then too.

    As for the ghostwriter thing, I’ve also been paying somewhat close attention to that because of my aforementioned interest in these sorts of books. I do know that the author tweeted earlier that she received “help” from an editorial team because she was inexperienced and needed it. She wrote it like she meant it was very heavily edited and that was common for first-time authors. I’m not an author, but I do get the overall impression that it was actually edited much more heavily than the average debut by an author.

  3. I was very interested in reading this book before it came out. I’ve always supported Youtube vloggers as they rise to fame outside of the Internet, but releasing a book just seemed like a bit of a stretch. The whole ghostwriting scandal wasn’t a huge heartbreak for me…I pretty much knew it was ghostwritten as soon as I heard about it. I’ll probably still pick this book up, but I don’t have high hopes for it.

    Katherine recently posted: November Wrap Up
  4. I was pretty interested in this book for a little while because I watch Zoella’s videos and was curious to see what she’d come up with, but from looking at the reviews, I’ll probably give it a miss. The point you made about how the MC didn’t know about panic attacks made me think a little, because the author has mentioned many times on both her blog and YouTube channel that she has anxiety issues and suffers from panic attacks, which made me think that maybe the MC is based on herself, and that doesn’t usually work out for me. Neither does extreme clumsiness or excessive use of exclamation points. If I ever do decide to give it a go, I’ll probably wait until it’s in library. Great review, Ashley!

  5. I hated the book, and I would just end up doing one long rant post on it and how it’s being praised for beating J.K. Rowling’s debut week, and how it’s so unfair that she got the deal but ended up getting it ghostwritten. I am so annoyed over it, and I applaud for finishing it. The writing was so immature and I hated all those exclamation marks so I stopped reading. The quotes you listed make me cringe. *sighs in frustration*

    1. I’m SO pissed off about the “Zoe Sugg has outsold J.K. Rowling!” headlines. They are SUCH bullshit. I’ve been thinking about doing a whole post just about that.

      Zoe sold more copies of Girl Online in the first week (almost 80,000) than the FIRST Harry Potter book sold in the first week.

      Is that REALLY something to be proud of?

      J.K. Rowling was a nobody when she first published Harry Potter. She got famous BECAUSE of it. But Zoe was already famous with millions of fans, so obviously she’s sold more.

      Try comparing Girl Online’s first week sales to the SEVENTH Harry Potter book and it’s a joke. In the first 24 hours, Harry Potter sold 8.3 million copies in the United States. Compare that to Zoe’s silly 80 thousand in 168 hours.

      Yeah, those headlines REALLY piss me off. They make it sound like “beating J.K. Rowling’s debut sales” is something to be proud of. The woman was unknown!!

      1. Ashley, I thought the exact same thing when I saw those headlines. I actually like Zoe and her videos (don’t think I’ll bother with the book) but it seems as though they’re trying to push her as being better than J.K. Rowling. Like you said, J.K. Rowling was completely unknown when Philosopher’s Stone first came out, whereas Zoe already has a huge following – it’s not a fair comparison. I’m basically regurgitating your comment haha but I’ve been getting so frustrated with all those headlines!

    1. I’m so glad you agree! I don’t have experience with panic attacks so I wasn’t sure if my opinion on that part was unreasonable or not.. lol.

  6. I’m SO glad you reviewed this book! I was waiting for someone to give their opinion on Girl Online, someone that isn’t a crazy Zoella fangirl (their judgement is clouded anyway – there, I said it). All those fans are on Twitter and Youtube saying how much they loved reading it but I sincerely doubt that everyone thinks this is the best book ever. She didn’t even write it herself so why congratulate her on her supreme writing skills, right? Anyway, thanks for your review as it helped me decide whether to read it or not.

    Kaylie @ Potterhead Reviews recently posted: BOOK REVIEW | The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
    1. Haha I totally understand!! Most of the hardcore Zoe fans will read the book and think it’s the best thing in the universe just because it has her name on it.

      And yeah, the whole ghost writing thing doesn’t sit well with me.

      From an “author” standpoint, I’d have a hard time feeling proud of the book if I didn’t even write it. I’d be EMBARRASSED to call it “my book” if it was written by someone else.

      From a reader standpoint, what’s the point in telling the “author” that, “This book was so amazing!” or “Your writing was so beautiful!!” if that person wasn’t even the real author?

      I just can’t get on board with that whole ghost writing process…

  7. All I really have to say is… Wow. I guess I would be considered the target audience for this book, and I can only how that’s not what I sound like to older people… Despite the misconceptions: teenagers can be mature (shocking, I know). I seriously can’t think of anyone I know that sounds like this MC, or even see anyone like this girl at school. The plot of this book also seems pretty lame, and inconsistent writing? Just no. ESPECIALLY if it’s been ghost-written.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Ashley. Looks like I will be staying FAR away from this one.

    Aneeqah @ My Not So Real Life recently posted: Top Ten Tuesday (1): Most Awaited 2015 Books!
    1. I totally agree! People immediately think that “teenager” equals “stupid, ditzy, and immature”. That’s soooo not the case. I like to think I was a pretty mature teenager. And luckily, most YA authors seem to realize this and their MCs are pretty mature, even if they are only 16.

      This just went the complete opposite direction. >_<

  8. Yes, it sounds like this book might be suited to the younger YA set. Which is probably okay – I do think that there is an audience who needs the somewhat less mature YA because they’re not ready for the deep stuff yet. Sounds like this book is best left to them.

    Oh, and that post about not being an apologetic blogger – I remember that one too. In fact I posted a link to it in my Sunday Post. It was Cait from Notebook Sisters (which just changed to Paper Fury. Anybody looking for it can find it HERE.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: Review – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  9. I think this is the longest review I’ve ever seen on Nose Graze. And I’m actually surprised you gave it 2.5 stars with as many criticisms you have for it. I haven’t read it, but I really doubt your problems with it stem from your age. I volunteer with people in that “target audience” and I can guarantee based on what you’ve described that they’d be equally incredulous. This sounds a lot like a kiddie version of Babe Walker. Anyway, thanks for the awesome review. I feel a bit like I’ve read the book what with all the detail in the review (esp. the helpful spoiler).

    Leila @ LeilaReads recently posted: Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1) by J.R. Ward
  10. My copy is on its way, because it sounds interesting, but I don’t like that it sounds like a “young” book. Though, I should have expected it considering Zoe’s fanbase. Loved your review, Ashley, and I HATE too many exclamation marks. Ugh. We’ll see!

    I’m less willing to read it now I know it’s ghost-written (and I was stupid enough to not already know that – duh!). I will never get the whole ghost-written thing. I can understand why celebs do it, but Zoe isn’t actually a celeb, which negates the fact somewhat. I’m sure I read somewhere Zoe used to love writing, and rush home from school to write (maybe I dreamed it).

    If it ever arrives, I’ll sure I’ll read it. And then kick myself afterwards.

    PS: I read When (Death Date, you called it hehe and I can see why you preferred that title) and I LOVED IT. I can’t find your review (I’m thinking I dreamed that up as well) but all the time I was reading I remembered your love for it, and it really was that awesome.

    Leah recently posted: Coming Soon!
    1. LOL when I read When I had no idea what the real book title was. Amazon and Goodreads both said Death Date but NetGalley said When… Confusing. 😛

      I’m thrilled that you loved it though!! My review is scheduled for January 5th. 😉 But I do think I posted something about it on Goodreads, and I believe my NetGalley review was highlighted when they interviewed me.

  11. I haven’t read this book, but I saw the YouTube clip of the author at the printing press and read up on it and thought it might be a book I’d enjoy. After this review, I’m not so sure. I’ll be borrowing this book from my library and will decide from there. The ghost writing bit didn’t really turn me off, because through the years I’ve heard of them being used.

  12. I completely agree with your review! It was so honest and I feel the exact same way about the book. This book was so hyped however did not live up to its expectations. I have a review of this on my blog too if anyone would like to read what I have to say x

  13. Everything you said about the book I agree with! It was so hard to put my opinion of it into words but you did it. I felt it started off poorly but progressively got better. There were times where the story was rushed and there were bits that seemed unnecessary. Overall I give it a 3 because, like you, I’m outside the target audience range so it’s my own fault for not enjoying it to a 5 star degree. I’m not rating based on the whole ghost written thing. That’s a different opinion entirely. Will I pick up the sequel? Probably not. But then again I’ve always been a curious person. Since I can’t get my money back this book will surely find a new home when I take it to my local book exchange. I think if it can get any young person excited about reading, it deserves a chance.

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