First, the unavoidable back-story: If you look at the goodreads page for Girl Online the overall rating is nearly 4 stars, but you also see a slew of very angry 1 star reviews. Many people were very unhappy when it turned out that Zoe didn't actually write this book herself but instead had a ghost writer do it. Exactly who wrote what and how much we don't know. I too was rather put out by this, mostly just unimpressed that they'd hide that fact. I understand that "Zoella" is a very profitable business, but it did seem rather like they were just focusing on cashing in on her many fans, making them buy a branded book. Now, obviously you don't become one of the most subscribed female youtubers (8.3 million followers and counting on her main channel at this moment) without also accumulating some haters - that unfortunately is a nasty side effect of the internet. I think what we can really just learn from this is, that you cannot hide things like this from people. They will find out and the mob-effect will take place and a shit storm rises. Had they from the get go just announced that Zoe's story was ghost written, everything would have gone much more smoothly -and I honestly doubt it would have affected sales. Her fans are very devoted.
Now, the actual book review: I've tried to approach this book with a blank slate mind. It's rather difficult as I have previously watched a lot of Zoe's vlogs so I "know" her and the main character Penny is very similar to her (that red hair isn't fooling anybody). That or I'm completely projecting.
Nonetheless the similarities are there; the anxiety, the panic attack, the quirkiness, the giggles, fairy lights, Brighton. It was quite hard to not have a mental image of Zoe acting out the role of Penny.
I struggled a bit at first, constantly weighing and judging every word so much that it nearly overshadowed the reading experience, but then the plot started pulling me in. This isn't the most sophisticated book of all times, but it is cute. And I liked it. I really liked it.
All the way through it's a solid sweet story, putting emphasis on empowering yourself, accepting who you are and standing up for yourself. Penny is a sweetheart and Noah is a dream. Obviously you can claim it's a bit too rosy and all, but honestly I just want this to be what it is; a sugar-flavoured pink cloud of happy. By the end of it though, it got pretty tense and I was literally sat on the edge of my seat unable to put the book down - something I really hadn't anticipated would happen.
In conclusion this is such a sweet story in what I do honestly believe is a well written book, regardless of who wrote what. If you want a couple of hours of happy-inducing young adult girly literature, this is a good choice.