Published by Inkyard Press on January 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Inkyard Press. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Eric Smith’s new novel Don’t Read the Comments.
Don’t Read the Comments follows Divya Sharma, a teen girl who has become internet famous because of her video game stream for Reclaim the Sun on the popular Glitch website. Her stream has gained so many followers that she has received sponsorships from several big gaming companies, which means she receives a lot of gifted items and even cash. While all of the perks are great and it’s fun being considered a celebrity of sorts, Divya also relies on the money she makes from streaming to help her mom make ends meet. So when she encounters trolls online who threaten her livelihood, it’s a big deal on many levels. They send her messages telling her she doesn’t belong in their community and is taking money and endorsements that should go to others more talented and deserving than she is.
When they destroy her ship in the game, Divya refuses to give into them. She begins the game all over again, seeking a quiet corner of the Reclaim the Sun universe to start from scratch and rebuild her resources. It is here she encounters the second protagonist of the book, Aaron Jericho, a teen who is equally passionate about video games but from the standpoint that he wants to actually write video games for a living. Aaron is a little starstruck at first because of Divya’s celebrity status but slowly, a friendship starts to build between them.
I really loved both Divya and Aaron. Divya is smart, scrappy, and resourceful. She’s also a great friend and a good daughter. I loved that she was so determined to use her streaming income to help her mom achieve her dream of a college degree. Aaron is equally likeable and is immediately a great friend to Divya. He’s also the sweetest big brother ever, even allowing his adorable little sister Mira to play video games with him and name planets he has claimed. Divya and Aaron are just so sweet that it’s all the more wonderful that they find each other online.
Along with the relationship between Divya and Aaron, the other friendships in the novel really made Don’t Read the Comments such an enjoyable read for me. There were several feel good geeky moments throughout the story involving Divya and her Angst Armada, a group of fans/friends she has met and bonded with through the Reclaim the Sun game. Having made many wonderful friends online myself, I found it very heartwarming to watch this group interact in such a positive way.
The author does a wonderful job of creating a balance between those feel good moments and the other darker aspects of the online gaming community. While the story has many moments that left me smiling, it also has its fair share of tension and suspense, which is created by racism, sexism, and doxing, which takes harassment to a whole new level when it moves from online to in-your-face personal.
I have to confess that I was initially drawn to Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments because of the cute cover that promises a “wonderfully geeky” read. And yes, while it was definitely a wonderfully geeky read, Don’t Read the Comments is so much more than that. It’s also an in-depth exploration of the online world of video game streaming, both the good and the bad. Smith exposes the undercurrent of racism, sexism and harassment that sometimes pervades the culture, he also shows the positives such as online friendships that are born from shared interests. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary reads that focus on relevant and timely issues, and definitely to anyone who loves video games.
Slay meets Eliza and Her Monsters in Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments, an #ownvoices story in which two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxing in the gaming community.
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.