I WAS ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO HAVE THIS REVIEW UP LAST NIGHT. 😅 But ya tita foolishly overtaxed herself at the gym last night, so now I’m home with a slight fever and a really painful left knee. (Context: I dislocated my left knee when I was in uni and it’s never really been the same since. I have to be really careful about it when doing physical exercise, but this dumb bunny decided to push herself yesterday even though her knee was screaming, “Take a break, you dumb bitch!”)
I hadn’t actually heard of Girl Gone Viral before. I hadn’t even heard of anything by Arvin Ahmadi. But when I saw this book being promoted by my faves, Bookworms United PH, on their Twitter accounts, I was curious enough to check it out on Goodreads – and the summary seemed so cool and intriguing that I decided to sign up for the blog tour!
I’m honestly so grateful to Bookworms United PH and, of course, to Penguin Random House Global, for selecting me to be part of this tour because…we got physical ARCs! Look at that gorgeous photo below! Isn’t it beautiful? I’ll have tons more pictures of this beautiful ARC on my Instagram so head on over if you’d like to see more.
Title: Girl Gone Viral
Author: Arvin Ahmadi
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Sci-Fi, LitRPG, Dystopian
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?
Trigger warnings: Ableist language, discussion of suicide
☕ Quotes ☕
“Humans are experts in sharing. It started with cave paintings and evolved into books, tweets, virtual reality – who knows what’s next. But the pieces of ourselves that we share are just that. Pieces.”
“Humans are hardwired to create conflict. We thrive off pointless controversy, petty arguments, silly little reasons to disagree with each other. Thousands of years ago, it was man versus wild. Hundreds of years ago, it was man versus man. Now it’s man versus idea, man versus technology, man versus woman versus gender-nonconforming person. We hate, and we fight hate, and hate fights back, and most of the time the good guys win. But not always. You can’t always count on the good guys winning – but you can count on conflict.”
☕ Plot ☕
This was a highly promising premise that, thankfully, delivered. It was very Ready Player One-ish, but less wish fulfillment-y, less infodump-y, and definitely with much less annoying characters. (Can you tell that I didn’t like Ready Player One?)
Opal Hopper is a rising star. A senior at one of the most exclusive STEM boarding schools ever, a genius at coding, not to mention a shoo-in for Stanford, she’s got a bright future ahead of her. When she and her friends Moyo, Shane, and Kara join Make-A-Splash, a contest on who can get the views on a YouTube-esque subscriber-based platform called WAVE, they all think that it’s just another way to pad their college applications.
But Opal has an ulterior motive. One of Make-A-Splash’s prizes is the chance to meet Howie Mendelsohn, the founder of WAVE. Opal’s father, Aaron Tal, a co-founder of WAVE, disappeared when Opal was young, and she’s been looking for answers ever since. One of Opal’s avenues for answers is to talk to Howie. Unfortunately, Howie has avoided her since her father’s disappearance, which is why she wants to join and win Make-A-Splash, win that meeting with Howie, and finally get some closure.
But Opal’s WAVE show, Behind the Scenes, goes beyond just drawing in viewers and subscribers. Thanks to a data hack that allows Opal and her friends to collect biodata, they shake things up by proving once and for all that the personality that avatars display online isn’t what they’re truly feeling. Opal and her friends ride the wave (pardon the pun) of success, including playing a role in the elections that gets Gaby Swift, leader of an anti-progression “back-to-the-basics” political group known as the Luds, all the way to the White House. With the government suddenly taking anti-technology steps and Palo Alto Labs, the company that owns WAVE, pressing Opal to bend to their whims, Opal finds herself unable to focus on the things that really matter: being with her friends, her budding feelings for Moyo, her fractured relationship with her mother, and the continuing search for her father.
I found nearly everything about this book interesting and relevant, especially in our society of increased reliance on technology. I especially loved this novel’s analysis of how differently we present ourselves online as compared to what we actually are, and how our behavior online tends to follow a mob. I also appreciated the discussion of the effect of technology on the human condition, particularly in how we build relationships.
Another thing I absolutely adored how the book dealt with Opal and her friends becoming viral sensations overnight. This was an interesting peek into the lives of what YouTube celebrities must be like, and it really made me feel for them. As celebrities, Opal, Moyo, Shane, and Kara have the world’s eye on them, and have to struggle with being kids and doing normal kid stuff like going to dances, applying to college, and falling in love while being followed around – both in real life and online – by fans, haters, and the press.
If there’s one thing that I found a little weak about this book, it was how the fate of Opal’s father was revealed. I felt it was rushed, and practically shoehorned into the book. I also wish that there had been more elaboration about the political ramifications of Gaby Swift, the leader of the anti-technology faction, winning the presidential elections. If those aspects had been handled better, I feel like I would have given this book the full five stars!
☕ Writing ☕
Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am an absolute slut for world-building, and this. Was. AMAZING. I loved everything about the future that was described in this novel. The technological innovations that were talked about were things that I could actually, really see happening in the 21st century. When you can connect the development in a sci-fi novel to development in the real world, that’s one of the signs that your world-building is aces.
But aside from the believable tech-based, VR-immersed universe that Arvin Ahmadi has built, another thing that I really appreciated about his writing was the emotions he invested in his characters. I felt all of Opal’s frustration with her father’s disappearance, the excitement of discovering she’s gone viral, the terror at applying to colleges, the fear and nervousness as she rebuilt the relationships she thought she’d lost. I was absolutely able to connect with her as a character. And not only that, but I managed to connect with everyone else as well. It’s the rare author that can do that with a first person-novel, and I’m happy to note that Girl Gone Viral delivers very well in that aspect.
☕ Characters ☕
Y’all. I need to write an ode or build a monument or something to show my appreciation for Opal Hopper. I LOVE HER SO MUCH.
Was she manipulative? Yes. Was she selfish? Yes. Did she ignore her friends in the single-minded pursuit of what she wanted? Absolutely yes. But all of these things make her character ultimately human, not to mention relatable. Don’t sit there and tell me that if someone you loved dearly disappeared and you didn’t know why, you wouldn’t pull out all the stops to get some answers.
Honestly? I’m pissed at all the reviewers that said Opal wasn’t a likeable character. Guys, she’s a moody teenager with the weight of viral celebrity on her shoulders, added to the fact that she’s trying to solve a decade-old missing persons case. Would you, in that situation, in that same set of circumstances, be a saint? I think the fuck not!
Yes, Opal isn’t by any stretch of the imagination, all sunshine and roses. But she did the best she could, and in the end, she realized what she was doing wrong and worked to rebuild what she lost. That to me makes her one of the best, most realistic teenage characters I’ve ever read.
☕ Overall ☕
Girl Gone Viral isn’t perfect. I didn’t particularly care for the ending, and I wish the political aspect of the plot had been expounded on. But other than that, this was an excellent sci-fi book revolving around developing technology and the human condition. Recommended for the reader who appreciates an introspective analysis into relationships, storytelling, and the ties that bind us all.