As a 90’s kid who literally watched Disney classics on VHS tapes and shared a walkman with my siblings, social media (and the internet in general) didn’t dominate my childhood as it most likely did my younger brother’s and my cousins’. In fact, I was able to stubbornly stay away from Facebook until the second semester of my first year in pre-med. And even then I only logged on to message my group of college friends. I wouldn’t get obsessed with the internet until I discovered Livejournal (the OG blogging site) and the joys of oversharing personal details for the world to see.
I was about 16 or 17 when the inevitable social media bell jar fell down on me so I have both the perspective of someone who, at some point, would feel physically ill when she couldn’t connect to the internet as well as someone whose life wasn’t constantly recorded and spent online – a perspective that I’m sure a lot of Gen Z kids can’t relate.
When I first heard about Arvin Ahmadi’s book, Girl Gone Viral, I was immediately intrigued. The premise of a future where everyone’s lives are on display online – to a point where it’s downright voyeuristic – was fascinating but also not too much of a stretch of the imagination. I knew I had to read this book so when I got the email confirming that I’d be one of the hosts for the Girl Gone Viral blog tour, I was over the moon.
Disclosure: as part of the #GirlGoneViralTour, I received an e-ARC from Penguin Random House so HUGE thanks to them and to the awesome people at Bookworms Unite PH for organizing this tour.
For seventeen-year-old Opal Hopper, code is magic. She builds entire worlds from scratch: Mars craters, shimmering lakes, any virtual experience her heart desires.
But she can’t code her dad back into her life.
When he disappeared after her tenth birthday, leaving only a cryptic note, Opal tried desperately to find him. And when he never turned up, she enrolled at a boarding school for technical prodigies and tried to forget.
Until now. Because WAVE, the world’s biggest virtual reality platform, has announced a contest where the winner gets to meet its billionaire founder. The same billionaire who worked closely with Opal’s dad. The one she always believed might know where he went. The one who maybe even murdered him.
What begins as a small data hack to win the contest spirals out of control when Opal goes viral, digging her deeper into a hole of lies, hacks, and manipulation. How far will Opal go for the answers–or is it the attention–she’s wanted for years?
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I’m going to say this right now: I ADORED this book. It was unlike most futuristic YA novels I’ve read with more or less the same premise. It delivers its point without coming across as preachy and it gives us a technologically advanced future that doesn’t have obvious underlying darkness (which most sci-fi books tend to do because technology BAD and all that).
I’m going to elaborate on the details in a bit but for now I just want to say that I really enjoyed reading this novel and it pains me to know that it’s a standalone and not the first book of a series. While I did have one or two problems with it, they weren’t too distracting that they ruined the experience for me.
Girl Gone Viral is a riveting read that will leave you contemplating on just how beneficial social media is and if it’s really worth all the risk it entails. Personally, I’m of the belief that as long as it’s in moderation, like with everything else, there’s nothing wrong with spending time online. It’s when people ONLY live their lives on the internet and viciously pick apart another person’s life like it’s a puzzle instead of a living breathing person that things get toxic. Sadly, that’s an all too common phenomenon these days, sans the virtual reality glasses… for now.
Since reading more sci-fi books I’ve come to really appreciate descriptions of future technology. The world of tech in Girl Gone Viral really draws you in with its glitz and glam but also with how familiar it is. A century into the future and people are still stalking celebrities only this time with literal drone cameras (a terrifying concept in my opinion… made even more terrifying by the fact that it’s not even that unlikely).
The addiction to Youtube-esque platform (WAVE) also makes sense because I’m sure even with all the advancement in CGI and whatever, people will still want content that feels more personal and relatable. What I loved even more was how easily manipulated the algorithm of WAVE was. I see those Paul bros’ inspired trolls who value quantity over quality.
Overall, the world of Girl Gone Viral was fresh but also grounded on reality. It’s easy to go full ham on future technology so it’s nice to see a book that mostly focused on the people instead of the AIs and robots.
Opal, An Actual Gem
Naturally, this book would have been nothing if not for the incredible main character, Opal Hopper. It’s no secret that the world of programmers is predominantly male so having a teenage girl as the lead for this book was really interesting. Even if most would spout the old drivel that one’s gender doesn’t really matter, when you’re the only girl in a room full of guys, there are going to be some that won’t let you forget it. The challenges you face are inherently different too and I’m glad this book touches on that.
Mainly, I loved Opal’s go-getter attitude. It takes a lot of nerve to go against the tide and Opal did it again and again, never stopping even when she’s attacked, harassed, and betrayed. Of course, her refusal to give up is also her biggest weakness as it leads her to put herself and others around her in danger.
But it’s this strength and simultaneous weakness that makes Opal seem like a multidimensional person. She succeeds and fails, celebrates and aches, charges on and cowers down – basically, like a regular teenager.
Finally I want to talk about the story itself. From the very first chapters, I knew that I was in for a ride and I wasn’t mistaken. You could tell that a lot of love and research was done for this story to work.
If I were to describe this story, I’d say it’s part futuristic adventure, part cautionary tale, and part teen drama. The first few chapters dealt with the WAVE contest but, minor spoilers, it’s not really the main plot. The main plot happens when Opal and her friends go viral and become virtual celebrities overnight. Naturally, having the limelight on you in a world where personal information is public property, trouble immediately finds Opal and co.
While I felt that the ending was a bit rushed, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and the diverse and three-dimensional characters. I will say this again: that ending was ripe for a sequel *heavy wink* A girl can dream, right?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ – Girl Gone Viral was great but had its weak moments here and there.
About the Author
Arvin Ahmadi grew up outside Washington, DC. He graduated from Columbia University and has worked in the tech industry. When he’s not reading or writing books, he can be found watching late-night talk show interviews and editing Wikipedia pages. Down and Across is his first novel.