This is a book review of Girl Online by Zoe Sugg, but it’s mostly a rambling account of what I thought about during and after my reading of the book.
Have you guys ever bought a book with the thought, at the back of your mind, that this is a book you’re going to love to hate? Have you felt like a fool for buying it as you bought it, but also excited at all the fun you’re going to have as you bash it? This isn’t something I do often, being short on money, and being an impulsive obsessive book-buyer, but I did do it on Saturday: I bought Girl Online by Zoe Sugg because it was on a major discount after the second book in the series came out.
Well, I am generally partial to books that are written as journals, letters, emails, blogs, etc. and books about writers, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. This factor also contributed to my decision to buy and read this book.
I also am still young enough to be able to channel the painfully awkward, tortured teenager I was, and remember how much I would have loved a book like this one about generic, awkward teenaged girl back then. With each passing year, the thought processes in such books seem more cringe-worthy and vapid, but I’m consciously trying to avoid being that way because my thoughts were frequently dismissed when I was a teenager whose spotty face seemed like the end of the world and I don’t want to do the same.
Besides, I have this rule that I’ll never knock a book until I’ve read it, no matter how ridiculous the premise sounds or how many bad reviews it gets. For instance, I read all three of the Fifty Shades books by E.L. James and took great pleasure in despising it from a place of knowledge and experience. I was able to, on more than one occasion, give elaborate discourses on why the books are problematic. Can there really be a greater pleasure? I think not.
I actually read this book in a few hours because it’s quick moving and the language isn’t complicated. I will get to the review but first some background:
I have been righteously sulking since she announced that she was writing a book and has gotten a book deal, grumbling that she doesn’t have any talent as a writer, and that some people have all the luck, etc. This is regardless of the fact that I haven’t had the discipline to finish even a first draft of a novel.
I also felt righteously smug when it emerged that she had used a ghost writer in the writing of the book even though the ideas and the story were hers. “What else would you expect?” I thought, smirking. I then righteously ignored the pang of shame I felt about my smugness when I heard that she had had to take a hiatus from the internet because all of the negativity triggered off her anxiety.
I have seen a few of her videos and I thought (in spite of myself) that she’s adorable. However, the sort of consumerist attitude she propagates makes me uncomfortable on a very primal level. I felt alarmed when I see the amount of makeup she slathers on her face to get a ‘natural look’. It doesn’t please me to imagine young girls following her example, and ruining their body images, not to mention their skin. I felt so happy when I saw beautyvloggers like CloudyApples talk about how it can be so tempting to tweak one’s appearance and hide one’s flaws but it isn’t healthy to do that, physically, mentally, and financially.
Unfortunately, this is a hypocritical view because I do use some makeup every single day. I’ve worn kajal on my eyes nearly every day since I was 17 but I have now started wearing lipstick as well to work. And face cream and face mousse. It makes me more confident, somehow. I don’t know… I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I try to be empathetic and understanding instead of automatically judgmental, her behaviour makes sense.
People are too impatient to be empathetic, however. It’s like everyone has been desperate to have a voice and be heard all their lives, and the internet has given them this opportunity, to be exploited from the comfort of their own beds in their pajamas. What could be better? Why would anyone choose to exercise restraint which is already forced on us in every other facet of our lives. We can be snide, disrespectful, downright nasty and not even be caught. And we can say them to anyone with even a smidgeon of an online presence.
I have heard people say things about celebrities that they would think a million times before saying to someone’s face all my life. We were comfortable in the fact that the recipient would never hear us, and even if they did, they wouldn’t care, because we are like gnats to them; just as important with just as much of a voice. This culture has carried forward into the age of the internet however, and people think it’s ok to put these harsh thoughts on to VERY public forums without any concern for if the recipient even has any feelings. In fact, a lot of people seem to believe that people waive their rights to be hurt or to have feelings (among other things) when they become famous.
That’s what Zoe’s book is about, primarily. It is about an insecure teenager with anxiety disorder who comes to terms with the lack of boundaries on the internet. The storyline was fairly juvenile, and the characterisation was two-dimensional. Despite that, I liked this book for the message. I liked that it spoke about the continuing stigma attached with psychological disorders. I liked that it spoke about the trauma attached with cyber-bullying. I liked that it spoke about the right to privacy that -gasp- celebrities too are entitled to. I liked that it spoke about a new kind of celebrity who’s emerging because of blogs and youtube, the bloggers and vloggers who are even less equipped to deal with their sudden rise to fame. I thought that the token gay friend who is now in every contemporary young adult novel was fairly cliché, and yet, some of the things he said to Penny, the main character, about relationships are hauntingly similar to something a gay friend of mine said to me.
More than anything else, it was a fast-paced, happy fuzzy book, which never end of becoming favourites of mine, but which I do read every so often when I’m overwhelmed by life or even by the heavy books I usually tend to read. It left me with a smile on my face. It isn’t a fantastic book, and it certainly “literary” in terms of story, characterisation or quality of language, but I can’t help but appreciate what Zoe has tried to do in the book.
Well, there you go. I am eating crow right now. I sincerely contemplated ripping this book apart for the sake of it, because it bothered me that I enjoyed it, and it is a book that can be picked on quite easily. But I’ve decided to be honest and tell you guys that it’s a book, the sum of whose parts is greater than the parts themselves, at the end of the day. I don’t know if it’s a book I’d recommend, because it isn’t a very revelatory book in terms of the themes it explores but it was a thought-provoking reading experience because Zoe Sugg went through the things the protagonists in this book go through and I feel like I was a part of the problem. We nerds, geeks and outcasts do so love to indiscriminately hate on the “beautiful” people, don’t we? Maybe because we think they deserve it, or because we think they wouldn’t care anyway… I don’t know. But you know. Um. Catharsis. Don’t hate on someone because they enjoy the things you think are lame, shallow and mainstream.
Well… There are my two cents about cyber bullying and about this pleasant surprise of a book.
Did any of you guys read this book? What did you think? What do you think about cyber bullying and celebrity bashing? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading and reaching the end of yet another abysmally long Sindhu-rant. You can now go back to having the nice day you were having before had a lapse in judgment and opened my post. :p
That’s all for today!