ARC Review: Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Don't Read the CommentsDon’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

Warnings: doxxing and online harassment; racism and misogyny; mentions of physical assault and sexual assault

Don’t Read the Comments is about toxicity in the gaming community, and is told through the viewpoints of Divya, a popular streamer, and Aaron, an aspiring writer who wants to work in the gaming industry. Divya’s story is about her being the target of online trolls who escalate the situation from trolling to outright assault and invasion of her digital life. In her real life, she uses the money from sponsorships to contribute to her household, and for her mother’s college fees, so being a popular streamer is her livelihood. However, racist and misogynistic trolls think she doesn’t have a place in the gaming community, and start attacking and threatening her. She meets Aaron online in the game, and they become friends; him being featured on one of her streams has him tangentially involved in the matter, but he wants to help and support her in any way he can. As the harassment escalates, though, she has to decide whether or not she wants to continue with her streaming, and how to fight back when they take it away from her.

Divya shines as the main character in the story – she is fierce, outspoken and sure of herself. She has a policy of ‘don’t read the comments’, to ignore the trolls. She is careful of her public profiles, which is why when she first receives threats, she hopes it won’t get worse. Later, though, she reaches out to a sympathetic police officer who helps her and her friend Rebecca. In comparison, Aaron’s story didn’t have as much weight to it – there’s a subplot about him fighting to go after his passion, and his issues with a gaming company he works for, who screw with him, but overall his story felt like it was sort of intersecting with hers at most. The romance itself didn’t have much to it – which, fair, considering she has bigger fish to fry, and with her paranoia and caution about online folks, it would be difficult anyway; it was written well as a friendship, though. Also thank Ryan for being the voice of reason to Aaron at all times, lol.

The in-game scenes were pretty good. Even as a non-gamer, I enjoyed how they explored the game and how much it meant to them, plus all the adventures they had. The game also added a sci-fi element to it, considering in the game they were exploring planets. And while the story is about the toxic faction of gaming communities, there were also good parts, like Divya’s Angst Armada – a collective of her fans who stand by her, and support her. Best of all, this was a quick read – I finished it in one go!

Is it diverse? OwnVoices Hispanic-Middle Eastern rep; Indian rep, queer secondary character

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Inkyard Press, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Buy links

The Book Depository | Wordery

Released on January 28, 2020

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