Review: Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi

Girl Gone Viral book coverI stumbled across this book at Barnes and Noble and was really excited by the blurb. Supposedly, 17-year-old Opal Hopper is a big coder—she creates virtual reality worlds and so on. I thought this would be really interesting because a) girl coder and b) I wanted to see how the author makes coding interesting.

But this is one of those cases where the blurb doesn’t match the book very well, as she doesn’t really do much coding. Her friend Shane does the majority of it to create their channel on WAVE, the biggest virtual reality platform in this near-future story, while Opal becomes the accidental star of the channel. Opal, Shane, and their friend Moyo have teamed up with Kara, actress and fellow student at their challenging boarding school (PAAST), to compete in a contest by the company that runs WAVE. The prize is (among other things) meeting the company’s founder. Opal is convinced that the founder knows something about her father’s disappearance, and she has been trying to talk to him for 7 years, with no success. So she’s pretty desperate to win the contest, and that takes up the majority of the first part of the book. Kara is normally the face of their show, but when she ends up with food poisoning, Opal takes the stage and rather unintentionally starts something big.

Because Shane hacked some personal WAVE data and gave it to Opal, and she explored the data and discovered that people have empathy for a famous movie star with a reputation for breaking down in public. Now, the data scientist in me is quite skeptical about her managing to do this over a weekend (that’s not how data science works), but okay, I can suspend disbelief enough to go with it. Anyway, with Opal on camera, things explode from there.

While I did like the book, it wasn’t what I expected. It’s set in a technologically advanced America where virtual reality and augmented reality are the norm. But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t feel that different from our world, especially with the politics that seep into the story in surprising ways. But the most unexpected thing was Opal herself. I liked her even though she was nothing like I expected, as she turned out to be pretty self-absorbed and selfish at times and played some unpleasant social games. But she was interesting and I enjoyed seeing her grow and finally understand what happened to her father. The book ends a little abruptly after she finds out and I wondered what was going to happen next. Sequel, maybe?

This is a sci-fi book, but it’s pretty soft sci-fi, as it doesn’t focus on the technology—it explores the social impacts instead. So a lot of readers should enjoy it.