Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi (May 21)
Overview: It's a new generation. All of us who are teens now are the adults. VR, self driving cars, and atomization has taken off, but racism, sexism, and the unfortunate repetition of history continues. What looks like a glossy, better world is really just a more tech savvy version of ours now. And at the center of it is Opal Hopper, a senior at the elite boarding school PAAST. Her father was prominent in Silicon Valley before is disappearance and likely death. Opal has to figure out what happened for her dad once and for all before Silicon Valley crumbles under the new anti-technology presidential administration. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 Opal is a bit lost in the world. She's smart and intentional, and she has a single focus- unlocking her father's truth. She wants to meet her father's former business partner, Howie, to question him, and winning a VR video contest could be her key. Growing her channel, begrudgingly, she earns fans. Her principals get tested as she decides between her friendships and growing her budding businesses.
She has the support of her friends Shane and Moyo who pull off a lot of the behind the scenes work. They both have their own struggles, Moyo wants the contest's million dollars to send to his mom in Nigeria, and Shane needs padding for his MIT application.
Plot: 4 There's a lot going on here, and it's easy to get lost. Opal wants to find her dad, there's a possible romance, there's a channel to grow and fame to navigate, and a new president who wants to send the world back to 1989.
The two plot points that stuck out to me most were the story surrounding Shane and his parent's pressure for college admissions and the idea of personhood over brand and making your personality into a brand. These are both totally relevant today (as are most things that happen in this mirror society ) and interesting. As Opal gets deeper into her channel, she has to make tough choices about how much of her life to give and what is sacred to her. As many of us know, the more popular you get, the less you have that's truly yours.
There are so many rabbit holes to fall down and keep track of that I never got fully into any of these more major threads though I enjoyed the adventure.
Writing: 4 I'm honestly surprised by this book. It's totally different from Down and Across. In writing style, vibe, time, and subject matter. I applaud Ahmadi for being comfortable in a variety of genres. There's a lot of world building for this near future. It reminded me a lot of Warcross. I was interested by what cultural elements today crossed the threshold and kept relevance. I think the book was too long overall though it provided interesting commentary. As you realize the dystopian elements, you can find their deep roots ripped from the headlines which should be deeply disconcerting. I just wish the story had been a bit more direct.
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