In brief: Eartha is stuck in a relationship past its use by date when her partner cheats on her. Freed from the relationship, her drunken video declaring her bisexuality on social media goes viral. Now Eartha belongs to the internet, and everyone has something to say. Will she be consumed by a social media giant?
The good: It’s a fun read and outside the box of my usual reads.
The not-so-good: The social media plot was a little predictable at times.
Why I chose it: Love a sparkly lip! Thanks to Hachette for the copy.
Publisher: Brazen (Hachette)
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
I hadn’t heard of Florence Given prior to reading this book (sorry – I guess I’m just not that plugged in), nor have I read Women Don’t Owe You Pretty.
Girlcrush is quite different to other books that I’ve read recently. I’m not talking about the queer and bisexual representation, nor the near future setting (please don’t let voice notes become a future thing). It’s honest and messy, dealing with the good and the bad, which is wonderfully refreshing. It looks at the toxicity of social media, the associated highs (free stuff! Fame!) and the toll on the mental health who create content. It’s a fast read that nearly always holds your interest 100%.
Eartha is artist struggling with money and her relationship. She’s not happy with Matt, who has come to think of Eartha as someone he can treat as a servant and verbally abuse. But it takes evidence of him cheating on her for Eartha to call time on their relationship, which culminates in a drunken video uploaded to Wonderland (think a Facebook/Instagram/TikTok hybrid) where she declares that she also likes women. Overnight, it goes viral and Eartha is an internet star. Women are thanking her for her bluntness and freeing them from conformity, other thank her for being so honest. In a world where nearly everyone is ‘plugged in’ to Wonderland, seeing something different – raw and unfiltered hits home for many. Offline, Eartha is excited to try dating women, having a crush on the girl that Matt slept with. Eartha and Phaedra start a relationship, which is hampered by her growing following and her new agent/manager, E.V.
Girlcrush can be broken down into two main themes – exploration of Eartha’s sexuality and the toxicity of social media. Initially, the story focuses on Eartha’s entry into the world of women, guided by non-binary best friend Rose. It’s giddy as Eartha delights in a whole new world that is open to her. There are misses, but there are also new friendships and relationships to be found. She has some great points about sexuality and feminism. But gradually, this storyline is eroded as Eartha dedicates herself to her Wonderland following and the sponsorships and need for content grow. She loses her offline self in the need to stay ‘relevant’ (i.e., in the forefront of the Wonderland engagements), churning out post after post that strays away from the honesty that gave her viral fame in the first place. Eartha picks up causes, and starts flame wars with others, then tries to tie in her sponsored content. Her messages become mixed. It becomes difficult, as the internet criticizes and abuses her behind their screens. A sponsored date turns into an expose and Eartha becomes more and more withdrawn and depressed, neglecting her other relationships. Eventually, Eartha realises that if she wants to be herself again, she needs to destroy her online persona. This ending was still shrouded in mystery for me, as I’m not clear what happened behind closed doors in Wonderland (and Eartha is not keen to reveal), but it still managed to make everyone unplug from it. The second half is also much darker, but I felt that was necessary to explore social media toxicity.
I did like the ‘director’s notes’ sections of the novel. These give a cinematic direction to how the scene is progressing, which is sometimes in direct opposition to what the text suggests. It’s a neat trick in how the way a scene is portrayed can change how the reader/watcher thinks about the character and the scenario. Girlcrush would work well as a limited series, especially if we get to know more about Rose, Mona and Phaedra too.