Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith (368 pages)
Don’t Read The Comments Pits High School Gamers Versus Faceless Trolls
Divya Sharma is the queen of the hottest online game, Reclaim the Sun. As D1V, she’s a popular streaming gamer who regularly leads her armada through the game’s infinite worlds. Thankfully, her virtual popularity translates into enough funds to help her mom pay rent. But when trolls appear as a group called the Vox Populi during one of the armada’s voyages, Divya is forced to restart the game. She does so solo, and meets Aaron, another player, on an unclaimed world. He wants to write video games—not be a doctor like his mom would prefer—and quickly becomes D1V’s newest gaming partner. But when the trolls come after Divya, her best friend, Rebekah, and Aaron in real life, they each have to decide if they’re going to pull back their online presence or fight back against the faceless trolls.
A Swoony Virtual Romance With A Serious Take On Online Harassment
This one started slow for me, but when Divya logged on to join her armada for the second time in the book, and was promptly attacked by the Vox Populi, I was pulled into Divya’s story. That moment of shock and anger—that feeling of being on the end of inexplicable hatred—hooked me, and I needed to know who would do something like that to Divya and why. Of course, in the world of online gaming, the answer of who’s attacking others is rarely answered. Luckily, this story isn’t about the attackers, but about Divya, Rebekah, and Aaron, and how they respond to the trolls in real life.
That part of the novel—the trolls stepping out of the online sphere and into real life—is frightening. It’s evocative and honest, and even evoked that bone-deep fear in me. Thankfully, that thriller-like aspect is balanced by Divya and Aaron’s sweet relationship. While she’s weary of him—she did meet him online!—she tries to keep an open mind about their new friendship. That one, positive relationship helps remind Divya of the power of the internet when it’s used for good instead of evil. And as her relationship with Aaron grows past friendship, so do their swoony and witty text conversations, keeping me entranced all the way to the end.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars
Don’t Read the Comments shows that online, you can find love (it’s rare, but it happens), or you can be trolled, doxxed, and harassed by a faceless, baseless entity. It emphasizes the higher likelihood of that happening to women of colour, and women in general, and is a sharp take on the realities of the internet. It’s balanced by the brightness of Divya and Aaron’s relationship. I don’t know a lot about video games and online live-streaming, but that’s not a requirement to dive into this one—actually, I’d recommend it no matter your familiarity! Also, read this one if you love real-world takes, fighting-back mantras, and swoony, first love feels.
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Jamie Mitchell is a writer, library assistant, former bookseller, and all-around lover of the written word. She’s currently working on her fifth novel, and if you’re wondering where the other four are, they’re safe on her laptop and in need of rewriting. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, and enjoys traveling, bookstagramming and experimenting with gluten-free flours.
Favourite book: Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Favourite brunch spot: 1823 Bakehouse