stuff I read · YA all the way

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

I’ve followed Eric Smith’s career for a while so I was really tickled to see Don’t Read the Comments (which originally had a different title) out in the world. Took me a bit to read the galley – because life – but I plopped down last night and read the whole thing start to finish. This is a really great YA fiction about a professional gamer girl who is targeted by an organized troll squad (why the industry even entertains these bozos is beyond me) because she’s female and brown who meets a non-pro gamer boy who wants to write stories for video games and runs into problems with an indie game-maker who takes advantage of him. Divya and Aaron have really cute chat interactions but also great interactions with their IRL friends, Rebekah and Ryan. They also have some real-world problems to deal with as teens. Divya’s dad has walked out on her and her mom and it’s her sponsorships and sale of gaming gear she’s been comped that are helping pay the bills. Aaron’s parents are really pushing for him to be pre-med to take over the family practice and low-key threatening to not pay for college if he doesn’t follow that path. The one thing I wish this book did was have Divya and Aaron bonding a bit more over non-gaming stuff, because I feel like the parents and how the teens deal with the parent stuff isn’t quite as developed as the gaming plot. It’s a minor thing because the rest of the book is really good.

Eric very explicitly lays out the problems of sexual harassment, racism, abuse, trolling, doxxing, toxic dudes, IP and copyright infringement, and gatekeeping which are rampant in the industry. There are some really scary moments – such as when Divya’s mom is attacked by trolls at her place of work – and some bros pull the “I was nice to you why won’t you put out” at a pizza parlor. There’s also some description of Rebekah’s previous assault that happened before the book opens, but is used by the trolls to terrorize her. So just a brief content warning that Eric doesn’t soft-ball the scary bits, he just doesn’t describe them graphically.

Now, I’m not a gamer – the last actual video game I played was Myst III…or IV? Which one was Riven? on a PC running Windows 98, I’m an Old, lol – so it took me a little bit to adjust to the descriptions of in-game play for the MMORPG that Divya streams on the “Glitch” platform. But I got into it after a while and Angst Armada that has Divya’s back really sounds like fun, so don’t worry if you’re not a gamer. And, not gonna lie, I did a little squeal when Desi Geek Girls – a rad podcast run by Preeti Chhibber and Swapna Krishna – got name-checked late in the book.

Now I’m going to have a minor spoiler here, so if you want to stop reading here, heyo, Don’t Read the Comments is out now, you can buy it! Thanks for reading!

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OK. The resolutions to the troll plot and trash game developer plot are both well-done (although if we actually got to see some real fallout for the bad actors in those plots in the form of lost jobs, lost investors, etc that would have been A+ but overall, yes, good plot climaxes). However, in the falling action of the book Divya decides to stop gaming professionally. She gives up her sponsorships, sells a lot of her gear, and so on so she and her mom are good for the financial short-term. And that made me a little sad. That even though she stood up to the trolls and “won,” the fun that she and Rebekah had with the Angst Armada has been ruined – what the trolls couldn’t stand was that Divya was engaging to fans because she had fun playing the game and made sure that others were having fun, too, and god forbid people love something unironically – and she and Rebekah are really going to have to rebuild their security and their peace-of-mind. It’s a very real-world outcome to this story. Don’t Read the Comments is not a fantasy where the Bad Guys are caught, Divya finds a Cute Guy, and every thing magically returns to normal like it had before the trolls and the doxxing. We are left with an “everyone is doing OK for now” where everyone is processing their trauma and doing their best. I think it really takes some bravery to write an ending like this, where it is not completely satisfying, because we readers do so want good things for characters we root for. And we root so hard for Divya and Aaron to dominate the bad guys so completely that they have to use dial-up to get on the Internet for the rest of their lives. So hats off to Eric for taking the risk with this ending. (And yes, I’m making a hat joke because he’s rarely without his flat cap, haha.)

Don’t Read the Comments has been out since January, you can pick it up wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a galley of this book we got at my store from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

36301029Summary from Goodreads:
Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.

From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

Do you like fantasy, mythology, and retellings? Do you like strong characters in your YA stories? You need A Thousand Beginnings and Endings! Such a great collection of Asian-mythology-inspired short stories from all different cultures written by YA fantasy writers at the top of their game. Out today! So much fun!

(Full disclosure: my friend Preeti has a story set at garba during Navratri, “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers,” in this collection and ngl, it’s my favorite ❤️)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

31207017Summary from Goodreads:
A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

I finished Love, Hate, and Other Filters over the weekend.  I was really interested in this title because it was chosen for the Barnes and Noble Discover program.  Not many YA books get to do that.

I really liked Maya, with her constant efforts to make a documentary about everything and her love of all things film. She has a really awesome best friend and her aunt Hina is just YES. I go back and forth on two quibbles. One, I can’t decide if Maya’s mom (and by extension her dad) are too exaggerated in her matchmaking/Good Indian Girls Do What Their Parents Say.  Some times I think yes, perhaps this is stereotypical, but then I think, no, the matchmaking thing isn’t that much more out there than the push to always be “coupled” in our society at large and her parents are also scared to let Maya so far from them when they can’t even control how people react in their own town. Two, the very ending of the book, which I don’t want to spoil, leaves me a bit “huh?” I feel like the author tried to skip a bit of resolution, to let us fill in the blanks, but it kind of defangs the end of the book.  I would have liked more on the page.

But that said, I really liked what Ahmed was going for with this examination of race and ambition in middle America.

Dear FTC: I requested, and received, a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

S30046340ummary from Goodreads:
Danielle effed up. Big time.

Danielle’s plans for the future were all figured out… until she failed senior English and her single college acceptance was rescinded. Determined to get her life back on track, Danielle enrolls in her hometown community college with a plan: pass English and get back into Ohio State—and her mother’s good graces. Romance isn’t on her radar… until she reconnects with her childhood crush and golden boy next door, Luke.

Between family drama, first love and finding her own way, Danielle can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. Thankfully she has her friendship with the snarky and frustratingly attractive Porter, her coworker at the campus bookstore, to push her to experience new things and help keep her afloat.

One thing’s for sure: This time, failure’s not an option.

The Big F is a really sweet, real contemporary YA romance that isn’t just about the romance (there’s a love-shape, y’all, but it’s not bad) but about learning to take responsibility for yourself. It’s about realizing that people change. It was really nice to read a teen romance where no one was a d-bag or an alpha-hole. I loved Danielle’s best friend Zoe, she’s a hoot. (Could have done without the romance genre bashing, tho.)

Read for the September Teen Book Group at my store – plus we had a signing for Maggie earlier in the month.

Genre disgression: Books like The Big F, Fangirl, and When Dimple Met Rishi hang out in this really unfortunate space where they’re tagged as YA/teen but really push farther out into the adult world because the characters are eighteen-ish or early college-aged. This is where I feel “New Adult,” as a descriptor, got hijacked early on as a tag that’s short for “here’s your romance with extra sex and maybe kink but not real erotica contemporary” when it really could have been used to signal romances or other genre fiction in either the adult or teen markets with characters that are newly out in the adult world and working out a things that happen to people learning to handle themselves. But the cat’s out of the bag and we’ll never get it back. (I’ve tagged this as “New Adult” because I’m a rebel.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of Maggie’s book.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Guide #1)

29283884Summary from Goodreads:
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is ridiculous, rompy, and touching YA novel about Monty (a grade-A, Capital D, Capital R “dissipated rake” and bisexual, sent on the Grand Tour by his dad to shape up or face disinheritance), Percy (Monty’s bestie and unrequited crush), and Felicity (Monty’s younger sister and a bluestocking) in the 1730s. There are pirates, accidental garden nudity, French political shenanigans, and an alchemical secret that chases them across Europe. This was a delightful one-sitting read.

Dear FTC: I read Read My Own Damn copy.