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Review: Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

January 22, 2020

About the Book

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya – better known as popular streaming gamer D1V – regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mum pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun – and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

My thoughts:

I absolutely love this book.

This is a book about a geek’s world online and off, and it is beautifully written. It is set in the gamer community and contains pointed modern day social media issues such as bullying, doxing, trolls and online harassment. But really, just because it is targeted at gamers, doesn’t mean the social media commentary isn’t relevant for everyone online.

The commentary on toxic fan ownership and behavior is layered throughout in a way that lets it seep into your consciousness and ramps the tension of the story, so that by the end you are racing through the pages to find out what happens next. The GamerCon scenes are fun but also heartbreaking and the panel scene is a tense read, the action gripping and very realistic. As is the love, hope and trust between Divya and Aaron.

Divya and Aaron are beautifully written characters. The depth of their characterization is in their detailed personal history… and in their realistically emotional reactions to the trauma they suffer from the negative behavior from both online and offline people. The depth of characterisation is also shown in their friendships and family relationships, both online and in the real world. The online world is at times a nasty one full of horrible people who want to take advantage of you and both Divya and Aaron experience this. But there is also the amazing hopefulness of the online community when they come together and fight for each other. The highs and lows in this story kept me hooked.

There is also commentary on the pressure that parents put on their children to have a better life than what they had. (And the pressure that children put upon themselves to help their parents in return.) The story is seeped in love, and shows how outside pressures force young people to grow up fast. Rich, poor, immigrant or not this story focuses on young people wanting to escape the past to focus on their own dreams, while not letting their parents down in the process. (It gives us a glimpse, through the parents’ eyes, of their love for their children and how they only want what is best for them. Also how low income families fight and suffer to provide for their children to the point of exhaustion or going broke, and its about the struggle to keep their kids safe in a world they have very little knowledge of or control over.

This book hooked me quickly and kept me sucked in. The flow of the text had me flying through the pages and I simply loved the Chat logs and VR descriptions. The gaming and technical details were not too technical to follow and in fact made for an extremely enjoyable tale of adventure on the screen and provided plenty of drama off it. I got to the end rooting for Divya and Aaron to prevail. A perfect story of love, hope and fighting for what’s right in a very unfair world.

My niece loves her tablet and online games. This is a book I am absolutely getting for her to read (and for her dad too). You should make sure you read this one.

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