Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for the ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: Don’t Read the Comments
Author: Eric Smith
Publication Date: January 28th, 2020
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Age Range: YA
Synopsis: 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 mom 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.
I know not how to yield.
Divya Sharma IS a queen, but not because she’s a video game superstar. At her core, she’s a teenage girl who’s found something that she loves, and that she’s good enough at that she can be paid to do it – aka the dream. But for Divya, it’s the only way she can help keep her and her mom afloat. Divya sacrifices her time, energy, and eventually, her safety in order to make sure that her mom can finally finish grad school, a dream she’s had to put off for years. Divya knows her worth and knows she deserves her platform in the gaming community, and for a lot of girls and other people from marginalized identities out there, that kind of self-worth is everything.
Aaron Jericho is the sweetest, goofiest nerd there is. He’s often misguided, but he always has the best intentions, and his best friend Ryan is the perfect person to pull him back into reality. And the thing is, he’s good at being an ally. Even after his name gets blasted on the internet in association with Divya, he’s more concerned about her than he is about himself, because he knows that she’s the one facing all of the dangers and risks. And I absolutely love that about him.
One of the things I really appreciated about Don’t Read the Comments is how much Divya and Aaron love their parents and recognize the sacrifices they’ve made to let them pursue their passions. Divya is determined to struggle so that her mom can soar, and that’s only one of the phrases that brought tears to my eyes while reading Don’t Read the Comments.
I think if you’re going to be a monster, you should at least have the courage to tell the world that you are one.
From the get go, Don’t Read the Comments is a story you just fall into. It’s immersive, and adorable, and most importantly, impactful. Eric Smith doesn’t shy away from hard topics, including assault and what happens (or doesn’t happen) afterwards, doxxing, being taken advantage of by people we consider friends, and the struggles of families trying to get by and build a better future.
What happens to Divya broke my heart, mostly because I know how realistic that situation is. I think there are a lot of nuances throughout Don’t Read the Comments that make it the hit that it is, from Divya hawking her old sponsored gear to make rent to Ryan and Alberto ruthlessly making fun of Aaron and going to get pizza after.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I have to say that it was perfect. Divya shows her courage time and time again, and I was so proud of her being able to reclaim her platform for herself, and for the people who supported her all along.
People assume that those behind a screen, or masked with an avatar, aren’t real people.
Reasons to Recommend Don’t Read the Comments
I’m no stranger to doxxing as a concept, but it wasn’t until I joined book Twitter a couple months ago that I saw firsthand just how much it happens. For example, a book blogger will Tweet something voicing their opinion about how maybe, just maybe, white authors shouldn’t appropriate other cultures or take up space that should go to authors of color….and the result will be people trying to hack into their email and attempting to dox them. I would honestly love if people would realize that you can disagree with someone and maybe NOT try to get them stalked and harassed in their daily life??? A mind-blowing, ground-breaking idea, truly.
So, obviously, I found the premise for Don’t Read the Comments extremely relevant and important. Internet culture is odd for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones that I’ve struggled with is how often people seem to forget that there are real people on the other side of the screen. A person can take every precaution in making sure that they have set boundaries and have protected personal information, but someone with a vendetta and a whole lot of time can put that all in jeopardy. I think one of the things Eric Smith does really well is show the ramifications of even an attempt at doxxing, what it can do to someone’s mental health and how that threat to their safety can haunt them for a long time after.
Whether it’s how to establish boundaries for yourself or how to respect other people’s boundaries, anyone who has an internet presence can learn something from Don’t Read the Comments.
Links for Don’t Read the Comments
(Out January 28th, 2020)
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