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Girl Gone Viral

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Girl Gone Viral Book Poster Image
Tech-based story has great messages but is light on thrills.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A look into how social media works, including algorithms and marketing techniques. Insight into the world of tech: how startups work, venture capital funding, the intensity and competition, and the overall culture. Perspective on the way women are treated in the male-dominated tech industry, including harassment and workplace inequality.

Positive Messages

Don't bury your emotions; it's OK unburden yourself and ask for help. Honesty and trust are important for any type of relationship to succeed. Work hard to achieve your goals, but don't sacrifice your morals or principles. Make time for the people closest to you; don't take them for granted. Opal is a coder who faces sexism. Her friend Moyo is a Nigerian immigrant studying art and tech.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Even though Opal has a good heart, she makes some questionable decisions and hurts people close to her. She matures, finds her moral compass, and learns how to be a better friend. Opal's friends, like everyone, have their own faults, but they all work to keep her honest and help her in other ways.

Violence

A female character is groped. A kidnapping and a death resulting from a punch are shown in virtual reality

Sex

Dating figures into the plot, with descriptions of attraction and desirability. Virtual-reality sex is discussed. Some kissing and making out in bed. Detailed description of brief virtual make-out session.

Language

Some infrequent strong language, including, "s--t," "f--k," "bulls--t," "Jesus Christ," "douchebaggery," "badassery," "piss," "God," "ass," "bitch," "hell," "damn," "d--k," and "goddamn."

Consumerism

Story based in Silicon Valley and tech industry, with tech products and media referenced, along with other brands for scene setting: Instagram, iPhone, Twitter, MacBook Netflix, Facebook, Red Bull, Twizzler, Cheetos, Doritos, Jeep, Tesla, Best Buy, and Philz Coffee.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage characters sneak off campus to drink a few times. Some students sneak alcohol into a school dance. One character develops a drinking problem as a way to cope with stress and unhappiness.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi (Down and Across) is a about a teen girl at a tech high school who skyrockets to virtual fame in a quest to learn more about her dad's disappearance. The story is set in the near feature, where Instagram and Facebook are old news and virtual reality social media is all the rage. The story deals with lots of typical high school issues -- the stress of tough course loads, college admissions, friendships, social hierarchy, popularity, and dating -- all set against a futuristic, virtual-reality-dominated world of high-tech, where every move is monitored and everyone is vying to create or be the next big thing. Characters engage in some sketchy behavior, including stealing data, drinking, and sneaking off campus. There's some strong language, including "s--t," "f--k," and "ass," but it's infrequent. Though this is described as a thriller, it isn't too intense and there's very little violence, so it should be OK for some middle grade readers. The story offers good discussion points around ethics, how much data and privacy we're willing to sacrifice to simplify our lives or for entertainment, and balancing virtual, online life against real-life relationships.

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What's the story?

In GIRL GONE VIRAL, Opal is a senior at an elite tech high school in Palo Alto, California, in the not-too-distant future. A top-notch coder, she excels at creating virtual worlds and interpreting data, all while navigating a typical high-school senior existence of heavy coursework, friends, dating, and college applications. Opal's dad was a well known scientist who disappeared when she was 10. He was deep into a secret project with his partner Howie Mendelson, who went on to become one of tech's most powerful and reclusive titan. Over the past seven years, Howie has never responded to a single message from Opal about her dad, but she now has the perfect opportunity to meet the billionaire in person. His company, the world's biggest virtual reality platform, has launched a contest for a new show, and the one with the biggest viewership will get to meet Howie in person. This contest combines Opal's two biggest desires: to make a huge splash in virtual reality social media and to unravel the mystery around her dad's disappearance. As she and her friends make headway and headlines with their show, Opal learns more about the dark underbelly of the tech world and social media fame.

Is it any good?

Social media fame, data hacking, privacy, and high school drama collide in this thoughtful tale of tech in the near future. Opal, the girl in Girl Gone Viral, is a conflicted, realistic character. She makes some questionable decisions in her desire to succeed and get answers about her dad's disappearance, but she's sympathetic because many of us might do the same things in her shoes. Author Arvin Ahmadi addresses important issues of ethics and the treatment of women in high-tech industries. He also invites the reader to question the ways people use social media for fame and money, looking at how they manipulate the truth and their followers in the quest for a good story and lots of clicks and hits.

The story takes too long to get rolling and the stakes never seem as high as the author wants us to think they are. The mystery around Opal's dad just hangs there, with no new information or hints along the way until the very end of the book, which felt rushed and unsatisfying. Even thought the book could have been more exciting and executed more tightly, it offers good food for thought regarding privacy, personal data, relationships, and the consequences of living a life more online than in reality.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way personal data is hacked and easily shared in Girl Gone Viral. The characters rationalize that they are using the data for good purposes, so it's OK. How do you feel about that? Do you feel it's important to guard any online data related to you? Are you willing to sacrifice personal information to make some tasks easier or to play online games? What do you know about online privacy and Internet safety?

  • What do you think of the way the author depicts the future a few decades from now based on current trends? Does the setting of the book seem plausible?  What assumptions is the author making about changes in politics and economics between now and the near future?

  • Do you experience a lot of stress over school and what'll you'll be doing after high school? How do you cope? Do you get help or do you keep it all to yourself?

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