Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith
Inkyard Press 2020, 361 pages
Trigger Warnings: cyber bullying, sexism, racism, allusions to sexual assault, cursing
About the Author: Eric Smith is a writer and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey who currently resides in Philadelphia with his wife, son, and their dog, Augustus. He has released several works in the past, including the Inked duology, the anthology Welcome Home, The Girl & the Grove, and his latest release, Don’t Read the Comments. Along with his writing and representing endeavors, you can catch Eric with Kelly Jensen on the HEY YA podcast!
“He looks around, surveying the hall. And I see it, too. The chaos. Stuff everywhere. Chairs all over the place. The result of frightened people. But then there’s the Armada.”
Divya Sharma has an army behind her. At least, her well-known, Glitch-streaming persona, D1V, does in the interactive universe created in the online game Reclaim the Sun. In real life, it seems like things might start falling into place with gaming sponsorships that are beginning to add up and chip away at helping her recently single mom pay the rent for their New Jersey apartment, and maybe even classes at the local community college starting in the fall. Divya is careful to keep her gaming life completely separate from her private life under one rule: don’t read the comments. The comments can be hurtful. The comments aren’t fair. But then, a group of cowardly online trolls dubbing themselves the Vox Populi bring their sexist and racist online harassment into the real world, and Divya finds herself and her loved ones in possible physical danger.
Down in Philadelphia, Aaron Jericho finds his greatest passion in writing video game narratives for a friend’s indie gaming company, ManaPunk. Unfortunately, this dream isn’t exactly supported by his mother, who would prefer him to follow in her footsteps and go to medical school. Aaron plans to spend his summer split between avoiding the hours he has to work in the office of his mom’s medical practice and getting in as much gaming as possible. That is until an astronomical coincidence happens, and he runs into the popular streamer, D1V, on an undiscovered planet within the game Reclaim the Sun. As their friendship begins to grow, Aaron is introduced to the harsh reality D1V faces due to her online presence, and he is not sure how he can possibly help until fate, under the guise of GamesCon, brings their ‘real’ lives colliding together.
Through the means of the alternating narratives of Divya and Aaron, Eric Smith blends three separate worlds: the personal lives of both Divya and Aaron and the online universe that allows their friendship to blossom. Smith skillfully bridges the gap between creating an array of meaningful themes and entertaining his readers by realistically portraying the existence of various types of harassment within digital spaces. In the midst of this, he presents crucial topics within the realm of online mistreatment due to gender and race while spinning the lovely tale of a coming of age story between two teenagers from different backgrounds who connect over their love for online gaming. Additionally, Smith creates a beautifully descriptive world within a world in his depiction of the game Reclaim the Sun, which adds the perfect kick of imaginative imagery and wonder. Don’t Read the Comments is a wonderful selection that YA readers will have trouble putting down as they explore a digital universe and follow along with the development of the two wonderful protagonists, Divya and Aaron, and their friends.
PRR Writer Machaela Raney
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