Social media is a wild ride. Stories abound about connections made, connections lost, and connections we wish would get lost. Once the conversation about social media starts, it doesn’t take long for the topics of cyberbullying, loneliness, detachment, and trolling to rear their heads. In his debut young adult novel, Don’t Read the Comments, author Eric Smith serves up all these issues—the good, the bad, and the ugly—on a silver platter for us to consider.
Divya Sharma (screen name D1V) reigns supreme in the virtual world of this year’s hottest online game, Reclaim the Sun, until a group of online trolls attempt to unseat her from her star status. The stakes of the story climb higher as we learn that her celebrity isn’t a personal ego trip; it’s the engine that drives sponsorship dollars to help her single mother pay their bills. For online gamers, this book hits close to home, and presents their greatest dream and worst nightmare wrapped into one story arc along with an intense look at the devastating personal impact of racism, sexism, and toxic masculinity. For people who aren’t familiar with online gaming, Divya’s story is a heart-wrenching scenario of a daughter willing to risk everything to help her mother who is her everything.
Much of the story focuses on Divya’s online travels with another online gamer, Aaron Jericho, as the trolling skyrockets out-of-control threatening everything, online and off, that Divya and her producer and best friend, Rebekah, have built. Aaron’s online admiration of Divya translates into a friendship and romance IRL. It’s these bittersweet moments, the silver linings that can only be realized through painful growth that precipitates drastic change, that keep readers turning the pages of Smith’s book, wanting to know how, when, and to what end Divya’s online and offline lives will collide. After the last page, we’re left wondering if there truly is or ever could be any separation at all between the world (or in Divya’s case, worlds) on screen and the material world. Or, is that separation a facade in and of itself.
I read Smith’s book in November 2019, and now in January 2020 I’m still thinking of Divya. I’m hoping that her life is working out exactly as she wanted. I’m wondering how things have evolved with Aaron and how her mom is doing with her new lease on life that Divya helped to create. I’m curious if she’s gaming, in the worlds of Reclaim the Sun or otherwise. Without me even realizing it, Divya became as real to me in the pages of Smith’s book as anyone I know. That’s the lesson of Divya’s journey for all of us—we don’t have an online life and real life. It’s all real. It’s all one life, no matter where we live it. And it all matters.
Don’t Read the Comments is published by Inkyard Press. It’s available on Amazon and Indiebound. You can follow Smith’s journey as an author and literary agent through his delightful Twitter feed @ericsmithrocks.
I’m so excited to share the Kirkus review of my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. Thanks to Kirkus for considering my book and for the incredibly kind words; I’m more motivated than ever to write book two!
“In this debut YA novel, the extraordinary truth behind the death of her mother kindles a teenager’s determination to claim her place in a world-threatening conflict between light and dark.
Odd things are happening around 13-year-old New Yorker Emerson Page, a girl who has suffered from severe anxiety since the death of her mother five years ago. The official cause of death is still unknown. The teen’s therapy dog, Friday, is her anchor; so is Columbia student Skylar, who stays with her when Emerson’s forensic linguist father is away. A trip to her favorite bookstore is the catalyst for puzzling events that begin with the gift of an old tome; the disturbing appearance of a part-metal, part-flesh woman named Cassandra; a howling storm; and a riot on the street under a sky “painted the color of chaos.” Indeed, mysteries and portentous happenings so abound that readers could well feel at sea if not for Avampato’s taut unveiling of a fantastical hidden world, where descendants of the nine Muses in Greek mythology must find a way to prevent the destruction of all human creative thoughts and endeavors by one of their own. Can Emerson be the key? The author takes her relatable heroine on a journey toward self-determination, strength of purpose, and the discovery of her own gifts of light and imagination. During Emerson’s odyssey, paintings come to life; books in a vast “Library of Imagination” represent nothing less than the lives of every creative mind on Earth, past and present; and the heroine faces the nightmare that is Cassandra’s dark world of “In-Between.” The multilayered plot and vivid prose amply illustrate the tale’s key themes: the importance of human imagination, the arts, and invention as well as the value in finding and sharing one’s light. A suspenseful fantasy that delivers a richly layered, thought-provoking plot infused with messages about self-realization and the significance of imagination and creativity.
Avampato may want to reconsider her statement, in her otherwise inspirational note about why she wrote her work, that there are “almost no” YA books “in which a female protagonist takes control of her own life and destiny.” Among the wealth of such novels: Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper series, Catherine Linka’s A Girl Called Fearless, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.”
(On the this last point, I appreciate the push though stand by my belief that we do not have nearly enough YA novels that positively portray strong female characters. As support, I give you this short film by Rebel Girls that shows just how few positive role models girls have in literature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1Jbd4-fPOE
To that end, I’d be glad to have an open discussion about this, and to find ways to feature more powerful girls and women in stories.)
Honored to share that Midwest Book Review reviewed my novel:
“A deftly written and unfailingly entertaining novel for teen readers, Emerson Page and Where The Light Enters showcases author Christa Avampato’s impressive flair for originality and master of the storytelling arts. Unreservedly recommended for both school and community library YA Fiction collections.”
The review has been provided to the Helen C. White Library’s “Cooperative Children’s Book Center” (University of Wisconsin, Madison) where it will be made available to school and community librarians throughout Wisconsin’s public school systems and community libraries. This review has also been provided to the Cengage Learning, Gale interactive CD-ROM series “Book Review Index” which is published four times yearly for academic, corporate, and public library systems.
Additionally, this review will be archived on the Midwest Book Review website for the next five years.
West Side Rag is one of my favorite neighborhood publications on the Upper West Side. I’m so excited that they reviewed my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. My thanks to writer and reviewer Nancy Novick. Check out the review on West Side Rag.