The Girl Online series is a series of books but Zoe Sugg, better known as the vlogger Zoella. There are three titles in the series so far – Girl Online, On Tour and Going Solo. They follow the adventures of a teenager named Penny, from Brighton. While they aren’t my favourite books, there are still things in them that I liked, too.
The main protagonist, Penny, is one of the best things about these books and the only reason I kept reading at some points. She’s endearing. We’re quickly shown her hobby of blogging and her dreams to be a famous photographer. She also has the rather different trait of suffering from panic attacks. While I felt this were somewhat inconsistently presented (some things would set her off, others wouldn’t) I realise that not everyone would react the same to every situation. I used to struggle with panic attacks during exams. Being in a room I couldn’t leave for two hours while my entire future hinged on a few sheets of paper in front of me terrified me. Penny seems to cope with exams fine, but her reasons behind her attacks are obviously different from mine. On the complete opposite end of the scale, I’ve always been fine on planes.
As for other characters, Noah is a standard too-perfect boyfriend. He’s a rock god! There are some points where he annoys me (one point in On Tour comes to mind) and their whole relationship is unrealistic. Shy and awkward 16-year-old goes to America and just happens to meet a handsome celebrity, who falls in love with her? But maybe a little unrealistic is what we all need. We read books to escape. Sometimes, a love story like that is exactly what we need at the time.
I didn’t like Elliot, at first. The point where he was asking Penny to cut short her time in New York where she was enjoying herself, go back with him on a plane which terrified her and spend time away from her family over Christmas annoyed me. He did grow on me over the course of the books, however. Penny’s parents are lovely and supportive, if a little inconsistent. Fine with her traipsing all over New York with a boy but not with her trip to Europe with him? Kira and Amara prove time and again to be the best friends Penny has, better than others I could name!
I felt like the middle section of the first book could be cut down by about half. It goes on for quite some time about her trip to New York. However, the last 100 pages are brilliant, and where the story really picks up. Penny doesn’t have many close female friends or role models for this book, but this does change in the next one.
The second book is my favourite so far. The story picks up sooner, and we’re taken around several different European cities. There are a few more female characters with a stronger role in this book, which I like. During this book, Penny also learns she doesn’t need Noah to have a good time while in cities abroad, and goes to look around one by herself, a huge step for her. Like in the previous book, when everything starts to come together, the last 100 pages are an amazing read.
I was glad that the 3rd book dropped (or at least, stopped using them so much) some of the more obnoxious terms from the first two – terms like Inciting Incident and Magical Mystery Day might have been cute once, but tend to grate on the nerves if they’re used time and again. I found less Noah a refreshing change, and it was lovely to see Penny learning to enjoy life without him, making new friends. Noah was a constant presence in this book, as Penny obviously misses him – but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing things. This book does a good job at letting us see older characters in a different light, and introducing us to new characters, some who are instantly likeable, some not.
Spoiler: I actually don’t want to go too in-depth into Callum, since I didn’t want to spoil things, but I just felt something off about him from the start. Also, it’s great to show that just because someone has similar interests to you, it doesn’t mean you’ll work as a couple! Also, I knew it wasn't Posey, but I think it would be more interesting if it had been.
I think the one big thing that annoys me is that every character talks in the exact same way. A 16-year-old girl from England talks the same as an American 18-year-old boy who talks the same as his Grandmother and much younger sister. There would be a few differences in speech between them (I remember American characters using the term autumn a lot) and it was especially noticeable in the case of a 4-year-old girl. The best thing to bear in mind when writing younger characters is to cut out unnecessary words and replace long ones with shorter synonyms.
Other things – as a blogger, the idea of gaining overnight success from it seems farfetched to me. There were a few things that I found weird, like two families having the same exact pattern on Christmas Day? There’d at least be a discussion along the lines of “We open our presents after breakfast, we leave ours until the afternoon.” No two families have the exact same traditions over Christmas.
It is difficult for me to recommend these books to anyone who isn’t already a fan of Zoella, but I think there is one group in particular who might get something out of it – people who suffer from panic attacks.