Girl Online

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Girl Online Book Poster Image
Overlooks online safety, but tweens will swoon for romance.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 17 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Introduces techniques for overcoming fear or panic attacks, such as visualization and creating an alter ego. A few trivia facts about a range of subjects including Shakespeare, the history of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. How to say, "I told you so," in Croatian. Some geography and points of interest in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Brighton, England.

Positive Messages

When you face your fears, a new world in which anything is possible opens up. What happens to you is your life and doesn't belong to anyone else, especially not online trolls and commenters. Don't stay in old friendships for no reason; if they hurt you now, it's OK to move on and be with people who make you feel good about yourself. You have a choice whether to post something or not; if it's positive, go for it, but if it's negative, delete it. If you hide from rumors about yourself, people will believe them and you won't get the chance to tell your side. Fictional blog followers are overwhelmingly positive and supportive; the pitfalls of posting online, even anonymously, don't come out until late in the story.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Penny bravely faces her fears and her friends-turned-enemies even when vicious rumors swirl around her. She feels that keeping a diary is pointless and dull, that her writing will have greater validity if it could actually be read by someone. She blogs anonymously because she feels she can be more honest that way, and she hopes that her experiences and feelings will help people realize we all feel the same way. She always asks questions so readers will make personal connections to her stories and invites them to share their own experiences in the comments. She's surrounded by a loving, supportive family and best friend, and love interest Noah is perfectly dreamy. Best friend Elliot runs away from home when his father's homophobia manifests itself, but there's a happy resolution.


Mention of a pet's death in the past.


Lots of fluttery feelings of attraction. Several kisses, not described in detail.


Rare: "bitch," "bum," "crap," "WTF," and "ho." Also rare name-calling in online posts, such as "ugly dog" and "skank."


Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, mentioned frequently. A few pop-culture references to musical acts or TV shows. Author's YouTube channel (under the name "Zoella") mentioned in the dedication and in the bio on the back flap.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hardworking mom has a glass of wine on Christmas and is happy and relaxed. Area where employees go for smoke breaks mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Girl Online is a sweet, upbeat romance by U.K. beauty and fashion vlogger Zoella (Zoe Sugg). The dedication and the bio on the back flap may raise curiosity about her YouTube channel. Girl Online is the fictional blog by heroine Penny Porter, who writes about her experiences and feelings anonymously because she feels she can be more honest and open that way. The pitfalls of posting online don't come out until late in the story: Penny's blog followers are overwhelmingly positive and supportive; she experiences no trolling until her identity is revealed and rumors circulate about her love life. Penny's sugary, Pollyanna outlook, the book's mild sexual content (only a few kisses), and some rare strong language ("bitch," "crap," "WTF") make it best for tweens dreaming of their first romance. Penny's family, best friend Elliot, and love interest in New York, Noah, are practically perfect in every way. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJanette N. February 8, 2019

Upbeat and cute, but ghostwritten

This book is a happy, romantic teen fix. There is some questionable things things about safety online. The real problem I have with the book is that it was ghos... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old June 12, 2016

best book EVER

I love this book so much and if I had a 500 hour day without sleeping i'd read this again and again. I'd recommend this for people who love reading a... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bydeadsiriusx January 20, 2021

brilliant for starting reading bigger books

it was a really good book when i started reading and at the time i loved watching zoella so naturally i bought her book, it has no swearing or any inapropriate... Continue reading

What's the story?

Penny Porter, a 15-year-old high schooler in Brighton, England, anonymously writes the popular GIRL ONLINE blog. It's a place where she can be honest and cope with life's ups and downs thanks to the blog's supportive followers. Her mother's work provides the opportunity to travel to New York City for Christmas, and Penny is just as happy to get away from the embarrassing video of her falling onstage that's just gone viral. In New York she meets the dreamy Noah, and the two start to fall for each other. But Penny will have to go back home in a few days. What will happen when Penny gets back to reality? And can she and Noah hold on to what they have?

Is it any good?

This super-bubbly and saccharine-sweet romance will have tweens sighing and swooning in anticipation of their first love. Older teens and young adults will have a harder time digesting the highly idealized people and situations that surround the predictable plot.

All the upbeat frivolity doesn't leave room for serious discussion about the realities of online safety or the wisdom of posting anonymously. It's a fun, light escape for young romance fans and can be an opening for discussion about these issues with tweens who are just learning about life, both online and off.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about facing your fears. What helps you get through things when you're afraid? What would your alter ego be called, and why?

  • Do you agree with Penny that keeping a diary is pointless and dull? Are there things you might write to yourself that you wouldn't want others to see? Is posting anonymously a good solution for wanting to be read but also wanting to be honest?

  • Which of Penny's feelings do you most relate to? Are there any that seem unrealistic to you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance

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