Goodreads: Girl Gone Viral
Published: May 21, 2019
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?
I usually try to get a decent way into a book before writing a DNF review, so I freely here admit I only got a view chapters into Girl Gone Viral before giving it up, and there may be something secretly fabulous about the book that I am missing. (Notably, I didn’t even get to the part of the book that seems to be the major plot–the protagonist looking for her missing father.) However, I so rarely DNF books in the first place, especially YA books that barely take any time to read, that I thought it worth explaining why.
The primary reason I gave up is likely just a pet peeve of mine and won’t be a problem for many other readers: the book clearly thinks it’s incredibly clever…and it’s not. I hate this. The one thing I can truly think I despise about books is protagonists who think they’re smart, are acknowledged as smart by other characters and/or the narrative voice, but are glaringly, obviously not. Now, it isn’t the case here that protagonist Opal Hopper is actually stupid, so she has that going for her, but the premise of the opening chapters is that it’s incredibly clever that Opal has figured out that people lie when they write comments online.
If you haven’t gasped, shocked and appalled, completely taken aback by this wild and enlightening information, then you are not alone. However, Opal (and friends) are completely convinced that if they do a video (well, more of a VR experience) where they reveal to people that they say they hate a certain celebrity but they really feel bad for her and it troubles, it will be earth-shattering. They’re revealing that people lie online. (*gasp*) They’re so convinced of this that they stake winning the contest mentioned in the book summary on making a video revealing this mind-blowing information. Showing that people write trolling comments and say things they don’t mean when they’re online will totally make them go viral and win the competition because it’s just such amazingly, shocking information. They’re geniuses for coming up with this unbelievable theory that definitely no one would have ever known or thought of before.
…I’m getting sarcastic enough that you’re probably already imagining me rolling my eyes, and that was my general experience reading the first chapters of this book. I do admit that the trick of children’s books is that information that seems obvious to adults might actually be delightfully new and surprising to kids or teens, and maybe teens will, in fact, be taken aback by the wild information that people write things they don’t mean online, especially when it means going with what seems to be the general consensus. (Why say you hate Ariana Grande on an online forum where her fans are going to mob you? Just say she’s fine and move on, right?)
And maybe the book gets better from its here and goes on to have a fascinating plot and to actually say things about technology that haven’t been said before (though the general premise right now seems to be fear of privacy loss, which is relevant to many readers but not exactly a new theme for literature–See The Circle by Dave Eggers.) However, the opening is so lackluster and so proud of its own cleverness when it’s not even clever, that I can’t keep reading. Combine this with the fact I feel no connection to the characters, and the author seems to be fond of writing confusingly and withholding information to reveal it more “surprisingly” later on, and I’m just not interested in spending more time with this book.