Under the alias Girl Online, Penny blogs her hidden feelings about friendship, boys, high school drama, her quirky family, and the panic attacks that have begun to take over her life. When things go from bad to worse at school, her parents accept an opportunity to whisk the family away for Christmas at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. There, Penny meets Noah, a gorgeous, guitar-strumming American. Suddenly she is falling in love—and capturing every moment she spends with “Brooklyn Boy” on her blog.
But Noah has a secret, too, one that threatens to ruin Penny’s cover—and her closest friendship—forever.
Award-winning and influential YouTube vlogger Zoe Sugg delivers a heartfelt coming-of-age novel that perfectly captures the highs and lows of first love, friendship, and growing up in the digital age.
Psst. Girls, guess what? You are the not the only one who feels like a walking disaster, especially in front of the boy you like. All girls feel insecure at one point or another and try to compensate for it; some girls just pull it off better than others. Unfortunately Penny is not one of those girls that can pull it off. To her, she is the queen of calamity.
Penny lives in Brighton, which is in England, and at her school, it would seem she is not only a walking disaster but the sidekick in her own life. She is best friends with the queen B, Megan, and is in love with the most popular guy in school, Ollie; or as Elliot, her true best friend, calls them, Mega-b***h and The Walking Selfie. And to make matters worse, Penny has these terrible panic attacks when she is in stressful situations. Thus adding to the calamity that was her life.
But Penny has a few things to be happy about; her wonderful family, her best friend Elliot, her photography, and especially her blog. Donning the name Girl Online, Penny creates a place for herself where she can “keep it real.” Here Penny tells the world about her best friend Megan and how Penny feels maybe she’s outgrown her and asks her followers for advice on what to do. But she also talks about the good things going on in her life and tries to end on a positive note. Mostly, she tries to stay true to herself and to her fans.
Back in the real world, Penny has to try to act like she has it all together; easier said than done. For on the night of the school play, Romeo and Juliet, the urban version, Penny falls face first on the stage while trying to take a picture of the curtain call. Not only does she fall face first, but her butt lands in the air while showing off her old underwear. And to make matters worse, besides the entire audience and cast seeing her knickers, Megan posts the video on Facebook. Some best friend huh?
Totally humiliated, Penny wishes she could just get away from it all and much to her surprise, her parents have a solution to this problem. Penny’s parents are both wedding designers and end up getting a job in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, doing a wedding over the Christmas holiday. At first Penny doesn’t want to go. One, she doesn’t want to spend Christmas apart from her brother Tom or Elliot, and two, she is terrified of flying. But with all the drama going on at school, suddenly Christmas in New York doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Plus, her parents say Elliot can come. So that makes things better.
Once in New York, past the flight that wasn’t so bad, Penny feels like she is transported to a whole new world. The buildings seem taller, the people more fashionable, the places shifting from the past to present to future, everything about New York seemed like a wonderland and they hadn’t even gotten to the hotel yet.
Now imagine the most fairy tale place on earth and then imagine it ten times greater. That is how one would describe the Waldorf Astoria hotel. And just like every fairy tale, there is a prince.
While exploring the hotel, Penny hears this melodious voice alone on a stage. She stops and takes a picture and the voice questions her presence and wants to know who she is. She tells the voice she is one of the photographers for the wedding and she discovers the voice belongs to a “rock-tastic god.” She is one smitten kitten.
The “rock-tastic god” is Noah, tall, chiseled cheekbones and deep dimples with dark hair and he shows Penny the non-touristic side of New York; more specifically, Brooklyn and smitten becomes an understatement. With Noah, Penny doesn’t feel weird and awkward and she feels she can say anything and be herself around him. And Noah is charming and sweet and seems like he totally gets her. But alas, all good things must come to an end.
Thus Penny must return to England, miles away from the potential love of her life. Not to mention, deal with a best friend who she could stand to do without and another best friend that isn’t really talking to her. And to make matters worse, she discovers a secret about Noah that shakes the foundation of everything she believed to be true about him and their love affair; affair being the operative word. Now her followers are abandoning her, calling her out to be a liar and people she doesn’t even know are saying the most hateful things about her. Worst yet, besides Elliot still not talking to her and suspecting him of betrayal, Noah is making her out to be the scoundrel when it is she who feels hurt and lied to. Even more so, she is forced to hide from the online world, especially her blog. The one place she feels, correction, felt safe to be herself. But now, she isn’t so sure.
Will Penny ever patch things up with Elliot or is their friendship over and done? Can she ever get over the lies Noah told and the like, maybe even love she felt? Most importantly, can Penny face her fears and return not only to the real world but the online and stand brave, and just be herself?
It is tough being a girl, or being a teenager, or even a human being on this earth. But pardon me for saying so, there is no hell on earth like being a teenager in high school. Girl Online teaches us that we all have our crosses to bear and that no one has it as together as they say or appear. Girl Online also teaches us to love who we are and not care what others think of us and that there is someone out there who will love you as you are. Another lesson from this novel is that it shows us that we can’t let our fear control us; that we must overcome all obstacles, inside and out, and live our lives our own way. Most importantly, Girl Online shows us that we can’t believe everything we read online, or even what people say. That we must figure out truth from lies, that we cannot let the lies hold us back and always lead with the truth.
Reviewed by Camia Rhodes
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Atria/Keywords Press (November 25, 2014)