Life and work are both busy, but I wanted to share a book I devoured recently. As you can tell from the title, Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai is about a woman who goes viral in the worst way. The heroine is the victim of a viral story that upends her life, unlike the woman who has gone viral in the past two days. You may have seen the video yourself.
A white woman playing with her dog in Central Park is asked by a black man to obey the leash law. This woman shouts at him, gets in the man’s face, and calls 911, claiming a black man was threatening her. You can watch her anger and vehemence at the bird watcher turn into hysterical sobbing when on the phone with the NYPD. She wasn’t the least bit afraid. She was lying and acting in order to have him punished for speaking to her. For speaking to her.
Remember, 65 years ago Emmett Till was tortured and brutally murdered because a white woman lied. This white woman was lying too, and this black man out on a walk might have died because of her lies. He also might have been arrested, held at a bond too high for his friends and family to post, for days or weeks or even years, losing his job, his freedom, and his family. Her behavior was racist. Her excuses are racist. Therefore she is racist.
Back to the book.
Girl Gone Viral (GGV from here on) centers around a moment when a stranger in a crowded cafe asks Katrina to share her table. They make polite conversation, the man asks her out, and she declines. They both leave the cafe. But according to the people at the next table, this is a romance meet-cute in the making. They tweet their fictionalized version of the interactions between Katrina and the stranger, along with a photo. When the story goes viral, the posters are offered TV interviews and book deals, the stranger comes forward and also seeks to profit monetarily, pretending the story is true and that he and “Kat” as she called herself in that moment are really together. However, Katrina has to leave her home and friends to maintain her safety and privacy. The only person who comes with her is her long-time bodyguard Jas, with whom she falls in love at his family’s farm.
GGV takes place in the same world as The Right Swipe (TRS), but can be read on its own. I enjoyed TRS, but I didn’t particularly enjoy some aspects of how the two main characters came together or communicated. I wasn’t certain if I’d read the second book in the series, but Katrina is my favorite secondary character from TRS, and the book is both a forced proximity romance (yay!) and a bodyguard romance, which I’m a sucker for (I blame the movie “First Daughter”).
Alisha Rai deals with heavy topics meaningfully and respectfully, and I personally related to GGV more than TRS. It was familiar yet soothing to read about these characters who, because of other people’s selfishness, needed to retreat from the world. Their withdrawal and isolation is more difficult and more necessary because of their past traumas, anxiety, and fears. Every stranger is viewed with suspicion, as is everyone who gets to close to me at the grocery store. The main characters have a strong community of friends (for Katrina) and family (for Jas), but they can’t be fully present with their communities during this crisis. They want to feed people and care for others’ needs, and struggle with feelings of guilt when they can’t do what their community wants of them.
I think I read the book in two sittings, and was calmed and healed and entertained in the same way Evvie Drake calmed and healed and entertained me. Katrina and Jas fall in love, find ways to reassert themselves in their own lives, are brave enough to say the most difficult truths aloud, and hold out hope for people to behave better while working together to better protect themselves in the future. That feels ever-relevant.
If you’re looking for a story that gives you hope without making you deal with a situation too similar to what you’re already dealing with, give Girl Gone Viral a try. And, more broadly, we learn empathy for people who don’t look or live like us by reading books and watching TV shows starring such people. Today’s a great day to buy a book by a black author.