Publisher: Keywords Press/Atria
Published: November 25, 2014
Genre: young adult, contemporary, romance
Penny has a secret.
Under the alias GirlOnline, 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, she meets Noah, a gorgeous, guitar-strumming American. Suddenly Penny 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.
Penny has a lot of thoughts, and she’s encouraged to write them down to keep them from bouncing all around her head. So she starts a blog. It’s a very successful blog, with wide readership and encouraging, loving comments. Penny can connect to these people — but not so much in real life. She’s a klutz, she gets panic attacks, she’s awkward around toxic people in her life. Her only friend is her gay next door neighbor, another outsider who goes to a different school. When Penny’s mother is given a special job in NYC for Christmas, her whole life turns around completely: she meets Noah, a boy who seems to understand her without her explanations. But there are things she doesn’t know about Noah, and discovering these secrets could turn her world — and his — upside down.
I watch Zoella’s videos off and on — my brother and I especially love the ones she and her brother do together — and when I saw she wrote a book, I couldn’t wait to read it! There’s been debates out there about a ghost writer doing most of the writing, and whether or not that’s true, I can say without a doubt that this book is entirely in her voice. Reading it felt like listening to her in her videos. And because of that, I fell in love with Penny.
Penny is awkward and panicky yet adorable and intelligent. She knows how to connect with people — even if it is through her online portal and anonymity. This is what makes her so sweet and relatable for today’s audience. Her best friend Elliot is wonderful too — and his flawed moments are so genuine and real that their friendship felt modern as well. Best friends are never perfect. Best friends share secret jealousies as well. And best friends always come back together over a good milkshake!
While Noah was amazing as well — so very kind and considerate with Penny — I focused so much more on the pacing of the novel. I was relieved to see that the “whisking the family to NYC” bit was about 100 pages in rather than right away. This allowed for a solid understanding of who Penny is, the dynamics with her family, with Elliot, with Elliot and the family, and between Penny and her school friends. We get a proper peek into her life before it’s turned around completely on the family trip. Even when Penny comes home from the magical NYC holiday vacation, nothing feels rushed.
Finally, I loved how Sugg handled online criticism in the book. Penny loves her blog, and more so because her readers love her. But when she comes home from NYC and secrets leak, she’s the victim of a lot of online hate. And it really messes with her. Anyone in the digital age can relate — and who more so that a YouTube sensation vlogger-turned-author? Thank you, Sugg, for sharing another version of bullying. I especially loved this part of Penny’s blog:
Every time you post something online you have a choice.
You can either make it something that adds to the happiness levels
in the world — or you can make it something that takes away.
…Next time you go to post a comment or an update or share a link,
ask yourself: is this going to add to the happiness in the world?
There were a few small, quirky Britishisms and Americanisms scattered around. The voice was fun and sweet, and very young teenager. This is perfect for someone just getting into YA fiction — and if you’re in for a holiday read! Give this to another digital-type friend — they’ll probably really relate to this too!