ARC Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

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OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???
I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]
Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!
One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for…
He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.
With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

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CW: Extreme social anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, talk of past parental abuse

I wasn’t gonna read this book until nearer to its release date, but I just wasn’t feeling interested in diving into a new epic fantasy world right at the beginning of the year, so obviously I decided to go for my other favorite genre – romance. As of Jan 6th when I’m writing this review, RWA has been going through shit for almost a couple of weeks and many many authors of color have been relentlessly voicing their opinions about the structural issues regards to racism in the organization and how hard they’ve been working to make it inclusive but it just all seems like for naught. While I can’t contribute much because I’m only a reader of romance, I decided I can atleast read the latest romance novel by my favorite author of color Alisha Rai. And as always, this book was excellent.

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The Right Swipe was one of my favorite romances of last year, and because I really liked Katrina in it, I definitely had high expectations from this book. But Alisha completely hit it out of the park this time. The story captured my heart right on the first page and then never let it go till the end. It’s an engaging love story of two people who’ve been through a lot in their lives and the I can’t describe the joy I felt when they were able to finally express their feelings for each other. This is a story about hope and kindness and I’m so glad I got to read it. My only slight niggle is that a couple of subplots didn’t feel completely resolved, but I guess it’s ok if we consider that the characters are still a work in progress.

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This book has so many important themes that are discussed and I loved how sensitively the author manages to explore all of them. The PTSD, extreme anxiety, panic attacks – everything is dealt with honestly- how difficult it is to live with them but also how they can be managed with access to therapy, medication and a support system. I particularly loved the importance the author places on having a supportive friend group, people who are unconditionally there for you whenever you need them and how family is whatever we make it to be. The author also talks about how it’s very easy to get cynical in our current world but sometimes, keeping hope alive in hearts and being kind to each other might help us move on.

But definitely the most important theme of the story is about privacy in our world of social media and viral videos. We’ve really seen this happen many times – someone takes a video or photo of someone else in a public place and talks about the conversation they are having or spin a tale about a probable meet cute or just about anything else – and these tweets go viral. While they make for some fun when we read them, we never really do think about how the person who has been photographed and whose private conversation has become a social media trend actually feels about it all. Even if the whole situation played out in a public place, what right do we actually have to expose someone else to the toxicity of the internet without caring anything about their boundaries and privacy issues – there is absolutely no consent in this situation and it’s truly horrifying when we carefully think about it. I’m glad the author decided to talk about this issue in the book.

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The characters are always memorable in Alisha’s books but this book is just at another level. Katrina may have a lot of mental health issues but she has done a lot of work to devise her coping strategies, design her life in a way that minimizes possible triggers, and tries everyday to push her boundaries a little more. But despite everything, she is an extremely kind hearted person who wants the best for everyone and maybe, finally is ready for some happiness herself. As the story progressed, it was wonderful to see her assert herself more, talk about her needs and expectations and trying to not let her past hold her back.

Jasvindar may fit the typical romance hero trope of a grumpy bodyguard with a tragic past with his own issues of PTSD, he is also an extremely nice and considerate guy and hates talking about himself, but will do anything for the sake of Katrina. They both really are the perfect couple and it was amazing to see them finally open up and talk to each other about themselves and also just be a bit silly. This is a very slow burn relationship with many years of friendship behind them and I really loved their dynamic. I also love how much emphasis there is on consent throughout.

The side characters in this book are absolutely wonderful. Rhiannon and Lakshmi make appearances again and they are their usual badass selves. Rhi and Jia are such supportive friends and it was so nice to see all these women take care of each other. Jasvindar’s family was a delight to get to know. They are so warm and loving but also stubborn and their bickering and arguments felt very familiar. Sam and his friends Dean and Harry also make an appearance and it was nice to see Jas trying to make new friends and try to build a support system of his own.

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To conclude, this love story is sweet and beautiful and there’s no way you won’t love these two softhearted characters. It’s an amazing slow burn with deep friendship and also pretty tame, so don’t expect Alisha’s usual sexy and angsty times. But this book also tackles a myriad of important issues with a lot of sensitivity and I think I’ll definitely recommend it more because of them. I know Jia is getting the next book and I’m really excited for it but I also badly want Lakshmi’s book. Please make it happen Avon !!!

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PS: Thank you to Avon and Edelweiss for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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