Those of you who know me well will know that I am on a quest reading as many Young Adult novels as I can to see how they function as role models for the girls who read them. One such book, Girl on Line, has been on my TBR pile since last October, and this weekend with a myriad of pressing commitments, worries, various deadlines and pressures the novel became a place of refuge. I escaped to Brighton, into the life of Penny, who has an online presence with tag line so good I wish I could have written it. Stop reading now if you don’t want a plot spoiler.
What I was looking for was to see if this was a realistic depiction of online interaction. In a way it was – it was frightening real.However, this reality is diluted and undercut by the romance which is the main thrust of the narrative. In the way that she falls in love later in the novel, with her boyfriend with whom she can be “real”; Penny falls in love with the experience of blogging and her ability to be honest about the dilemmas and concerns. She shares freely about her panic attacks which alleviates her loneliness; she blogs about outgrowing friendships, the uncertainties of first love and romance, and when love becomes tangible and real for her while staying at the Waldorf -Astoria in New York, she writes about being able to be herself in a relationship. Thus she grows in confidence and self belief — only for this to diminish back at home in Brighton when the online world turns against her. She does survive, there is a sentimental happy ending, but not for her blogging persona: her online presence is reduced to controlled settings, and to password protected readers. So the novels premise seems to be you can have a happy ending being free to be yourself in a heterosexual relationship, but not developing your voice as a writer.
Let me be clear. Internet safety security systems are a must for teens & young adults. They need protection. Indeed had Penny put these in place she would have been better protected to deal with a system, “Planet Internet” that turned on her with the suddenness of of a wounded pet dog. The insults hurled her way are mildly depicted – I doubt they could have been allowed to publish worse but she is only fifteen and no one, should endure threats or names like “Skank” from anonymous sources. In the real online world as opposed to the fictional online world depicted in the novel, much worse goes on, and if Penny is a role model in this novel for surviving internet abuse, then it is here that she fails.
Penny has a loving and supportive family, a best friend, and she literally falls into the arms of her boyfriend at the end of the novel. Her family life is idealized and sentimentalized as is her growing relationship with Noah. Factor in Christmas, some product placement, then what you have here is chicklit for teens with cup cakes, lemonades, chocolate brownies, and some New York retro vinyl and graffiti to give it some manufactured “edge”.
Yes, I enjoyed the novel, but it falls short of depicting the dangers inherent in of online communication – Not a mention of CEOPS anywhere in this novel – and it sentimentalizes somewhat the issues of teen romance. It doesn’t really promote female friendships, yet at the same time it begins to explore jealousy between girls.
Online reality is far more complex and dangerous than its fictional counterpart – but I really liked her tagline! And it was pure escapism and so not to be sneered at!