Words cannot express how much I enjoyed this book. I went in without any expectations and was instantly sucked in by the themes and parallels to society that I saw. Definitely recommend this near-future technological contemporary!
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Hello, world and welcome to my review of Girl Gone Viral as part Penguin’s Blog Tour! I was so excited to be able to read and share my thoughts on this book with you all. Girl Gone Viral is a fantastic coming of age contemporary that includes technology that really roots itself in how tech and social media are a big part of growing up today.
“Humans are experts in sharing. It started with cave paintings and evolved into books, tweets, virtual reality. […]
We’re complicated beings who hardly understand our own selves, and that’s precisely why we put those experiences out into the world. To find our place in it.”
The book is told in the first person perspective of Opal Tal, a 17-year old coding genius who is determined to find the answers to her father’s disappearance seven years earlier. She’s tried to move on, reinventing herself as Opal Hopper to hide from her past in anonymity, but when a competition comes up with the prize of meeting reclusive tech genius Howie Mendelsohn she can’t help but enter for a chance to meet him and get the answers she is sure he can provide.
WAVE is the latest craze, and you can think of it as the virtual reality equivalent of Youtube. Instead of vlogging on your kitchen floor in front of a camera, WAVE is a full-on production with design and digital avatar viewers when you go live. And Opal stumbles upon some information and her show goes viral with her honest depiction of reality and how the way we portray ourselves online doesn’t line up with how we truly feel. It is a really interesting take on how people put their best version of themselves up on social media, as well as how easy it is for people to hop onto a bandwagon because everyone else is doing it. The book honestly made me think a lot about my relationship with social media, which has definitely been evolving over the last two years.
“Be careful putting yourself out there; privacy is hard to get back.”
I love the characters so much. Opal, Moyo, and Shane are such a great friend group and I love how they support one another. It’s their senior year and with college applications looming and the pressures of soon venturing into a new stage of life, I think Ahmadi depicted the struggles of teenagers really well. (Also can I just reiterate again how glad I am that social media was not a thing when I was in high school? Because I am forever thankful.) I felt most connected to Opal and Shane, but I really enjoyed everyone… even Kara grew on me! What was most interesting for me was how Opal’s relationship with her friends evolves as the story progresses, as evidenced by how they interact with her. Her grief and desire for answers makes her selfish and a little difficult to like in that regard but she felt like a real person to me just doing her damn best.
Girl Gone Viral is more than sci-fi: it’s about coming of age in a world rapidly changing & polarizing worldviews. It’s set in a plausible near future with tech that could launch tomorrow. Or very well could exist now but because I’m old and the opposite of hip I don’t know about it but that isn’t the point. Because with a society obsessed with tabloids and the voyeuristic nature of following online influencers, of course there would be paparazzi drones.
Reading this one was especially fun for me because it is set in Palo Alto, CA and there’s so much discussion on the whole start-up/tech culture of Silicon Valley that is relatable as a person that currently lives in the vicinity. A big thing in the tech world is disruption, essentially challenging the way we’ve always done things and making things better.
“Sometimes I wonder if people are right, when they refuse to treat me or talk to me with equal respect, because I’m a girl. Maybe we live in a world where I’m not meant to succeed. A world that actively fights to limit my success. And maybe, in that same world, my dad really did bring his fate upon himself.”
When an investor appears and talks about how gloriously disruptive the show is, I couldn’t help but laugh because she was challenging the careful facades that everyone puts on online. But there are definitely challenges to getting an investor, as our characters discover. Opal struggles to have her experiences and opinions validated by the adults around her, asserting that they know what is best. Considering that she is in a high school for tech geniuses and how much women are underrepresented in STEM fields, I personally appreciated this added discussion because it felt believable to me but also challenges those ideas in the text.
Ahmadi effortlessly crafted a future that parallels society today, using the lens of technology to discuss the post-2016 election Nationalistic world that America has found itself in. Instead of “Make America Great Again,” we have the Luddite “Back to basics” political movement that rises to power against all odds on a platform of “bring the jobs back to people from machines.”
“It all boils down to comfort with the old way of doing things. It boils down to nostalgia.”
It’s a social commentary that I really appreciated that has relevance well beyond the Trump Election comparison. The notion of nostalgia plays a bit role in the rise of nationalism has been sweeping the globe in recent years, but the methods are direct descendants what has been seen throughout history during colonization. The idea that society has been led astray from the time when things were perfect, and this group is the one position to bring back that Golden Era. The problem with a revisionist view of the past is that “better” is not for everyone, and often that idealized history didn’t exist in the first place. In the case of the Luddite argument, it completely disregards all the positives that technology brings society – and that throughout history when jobs have gone obsolete, people find new careers. We no longer have a need for lamplighters now that we have electricity, and we don’t have people phone operators anymore. But what we do need are the people capable of creating and maintaining technology, along with countless other fields.
The pacing of the book is solid, building in tension towards the revelations but the ending did feel a little rushed compared to the rest of the book. The main mystery of what happened to Opal’s father is revealed but the ending of the book is left a bit too open for my tastes. My one complaint is that the book doesn’t feel like a standalone, it actually feels like the ending was a set-up for a sequel. I just feel like there was so much development on the political front to have it end where it did! But the fact that created a world that I cannot get enough of is impressive and I truly hope that he writes more.
Overall, I loved this book so much! I found it to be fast-paced and engaging, with a good balance between making me think and being about the characters. I wouldn’t call this quiet YA at all, but the characters do each deal with their own internalized struggles of wanting to be good enough and succeed. I highly recommend this one and don’t think that the technology is too advanced to deter people that typically shy away from science fiction.
REPRESENTATION: black rep (Nigerian), depression rep (Shane), women in STEM
CONTENT WARNINGS: alcoholism, cyber bullying, depression, loss of a parent, on-page death, suicide
Many thanks to Penguin Teen for sending me an ARC for my honest review and letting me participate in the blog tour! Quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may not match final publication.
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?
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, followed by Girl Gone Viral.