Don't Read the Comments
Bolstered by a supportive and defiant online community, two gamers bond as they defend what they cherish most in Eric Smith's Don't Read the Comments.
Divya Sharma loves streaming her adventures in the popular MMORPG Reclaim the Sun. Her fame (100,000 subscribers) earns her sponsorships that help pay the rent, but it also attracts trolls' vicious comments. Divya meticulously ignores them; they can't spoil the joy of questing with her "Angst Armada." She specifically enjoys Aaron Jericho, the novel's other narrator, whose goofy stories and sweet gestures in private chats keep her smiling. For Aaron, adventuring with Divya is a reprieve from his mom's insistence he become a doctor instead of a video game writer, a passion he pursues even though his boss never pays him. Overlooking the bullies becomes impossible, however, when Divya receives doxing threats. As a woman, she's hesitant to report online blackmail when real-life harassment goes unpunished--her streaming partner, Rebekah, was beaten by men who were never penalized despite a video of the attack going viral. But when men assault them at an arcade, Divya wants justice.
Through a compelling dual point-of-view narrative, Smith (The Girl and the Grove) skillfully addresses how the online sphere can serve as a breeding ground for hate--and how left unchecked, virtual harassment can lead to trauma. Yet through Aaron's endearing antics and Divya's devoted fleet of followers, Smith more powerfully illustrates the beauty, strength and solidarity of the gaming community. With an in-game romance to geek out over, a group of gamers fighting for their leader and copious video game references, Don't Read the Comments is a gratifyingly nerdy story about realizing dreams. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer