Girl Offline: Zoe Sugg’s Literary Scandal That Wasn’t and Isn’t

by Kolby Solinsky

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I had never heard of Zoe Sugg – Zoella – until last week, when news broke that the young Brit’s first novel was the fastest-selling debut scribble ever, beating out the breakthrough books from J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and EL James. Maybe you’ve heard of them. But like Zoella, chances are you hadn’t heard of them until they were already famous – until your kid was on the third Harry Potter book, until your girlfriend or wife (or mother) was on the second Fifty Shades sequel, or until The Da Vinci Code had pissed off the Vatican. And like those situations, I had no idea who Sugg was until the entire world (the under-20 females of it, at least) had already ordered her latest creation off of Amazon.

Now comes the follow-up news, that her book – it’s called Girl Online and I’m sure you can guess the plot from knowing the title alone – was ghostwritten, reportedly by someone named Siobhan Curham.

So without having any clue what’s made this young woman who she is, I might have now witnessed her entire career and known all I need to know about her without even trying. I read the synopsis and skipped to the end, all because the news cycle has gotten exceptionally skilled at spitting out full text and frauds, or at the very least anything less than honest. (And to take some pressure off Miss Sugg, every single human being is less than honest. Most of us just haven’t been caught yet because we’re not YouTube famous.)

When I first saw her, I thought, ‘Wow, she’s cute… I hope I’m legally allowed to think that.’ But good news, she’s 24. She just plays someone much younger.

And then I was scared, because I thought, ‘Oh, so does this mean you can only get published now if you start with 6.6 million fans and you look like that?’ And that made me sad, because it seems like you can’t get famous anymore unless you’re already famous, which is hard because, you know, of the chicken and the egg. So when I heard her book was ghostwritten, I selfishly thought, ‘Yes, a win for the humans, for Bukowski and the great American novel.’

And then I thought, ‘Why did I take the bait?’

This is 2014, where we don’t have to read anything, watch anything, or invest nearly any time in anything to know what it’s about, why it’s great, or at least why the world around you loves it. We don’t have to read a great novel, we can just look it up on SparkNotes or watch John Green’s YouTube channel. We don’t have to watch Game of Thrones, we can just head to Wikipedia to know how it ends.

And we don’t have to know Zoe Sugg to judge her – all we need is an IP address and a WiFi connection, which is all she needed to get to where she is, too.

(NOTE: It’s sort of funny. The generation that used to be – the Mitt Romney-ish, Cold War-era kids – spent their lives trying to make corporations into people, to convince us that heads-down, blue collar ideals and rank and file were the way to get ahead, through trickle-down fantasies. But now, everyone born after 1990 is trying to do the opposite – to turn themselves into a brand.)

The funny thing about this deep, blue sea of content is, the more we have, the less we have. The more originality we have, the more we realize nothing is an original thought or product. Osmosis can’t exist when everything’s drowning. A robot doesn’t have to be mechanical to be a robot – it just has to be automatic, and humans can be automatic and common and predictable, too.

I know Zoe Sugg is a real person with hair and a face and a brain and all, but because I’ve only ever seen her over the Web, she’s basically just a robot to me, and to her fans. And her book was a robot’s creation. So while I assume her fans are mad or disappointed that their dough-eyed hero might not have toiled Hemingway-style over the pages of Girl Online, I have to ask… why?

Why would anyone be upset about this? Because the book is unoriginal?

It’s called Girl Online. In the trailer video, below, the theme song is Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’. It’s about blogging and meeting boys… and you wanted something original?

No matter who wrote it, anyone could have written it.

It’s already mechanical, copied and pasted. Her work on YouTube, even though it’s charming and adorably accented and dressed, has always been mechanical. Just like Matthew McConaughey has always been mechanical. I bet you love BuzzFeed, but can you name one author who’s written one of those lists you love?

There’s no crime here. There’s no deception and nobody’s the fool, unless you count yourself. Because anyone who expects a novel from a YouTuber to be anything more than a novel from a YouTuber is, unfortunately, the only one to blame.

VIDEO: Trailer for Girl Online by The Book People

VIDEO: Seeing My Book Being Printed by MoreZoella