An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship–like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor–April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world–everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires–and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.
Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
At the end of this novel I’m not quite sure where the title came from, so I can only assume the absolutely remarkable thing is that Hank was able to write a book this amazing on his first try.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing had a distinct Ready Player One mash-up with Arrival vibe. (Except, in my opinion, it was even better than RPO, so there’s that.) If you enjoyed either of those stories you will probably like An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.
It’s like, uber corny to say it (especially a second time), but this book was truly remarkable. It’s a story that only Hank Green could have written. It really showcased his particular experiences and expertise, but at the same time was so completely relatable. Probably nobody will ever experience internet fame quite the way April May did, but I now feel totally prepared for it. So once this review goes viral and I become a literal billionaire, I’ll be sure to not get too addicted to twitter.
There were so many things to love about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, but I think my favorite was the social commentary. A big part of this story is about how social media can either unite or divide us, and I love how Hank showed people on both “sides” using it in that way. April May is unabashedly honest about how she used divisionary tactics to “win” arguments on the internet, or simply to gain more followers. (Is divisionary a word? It is now…) Though April certainly feels herself to be on the right side of the argument, she recognizes that maybe the other people do too. And I think in 2018 that’s a pretty powerful message.
Speaking of April May, loved her. I loved that she wasn’t lovable. She was honest about herself and her flaws. She doesn’t try to pretend to be perfect. Instead she lays all of her mistakes out there and says “I screwed up.” But she was also hilarious to listen to, and she had a great sense of humor.
Also, can I say how impressed I am that Hank was able to not only successfully write a protagonist of another gender, but of a different sexual orientation? And to do so so thoughtfully and like, well, was just really impressive.
So often when novels include pop-culture references it’s only to try seem more relevant than it is, or, more often, simply for nostalgia’s sake. Not here. The pop-culture was seamlessly integrated into the plot and drove it forward. It’s unclear what year this novel takes place, but Twitter and Facebook are both around and powerful, so it can’t be that far in the future. Except like, Don’t Stop Me Now can NOT possibly be an obscure Queen song no one knows. Aside from being my second favorite Queen song, it’s on the pink Greatest Hits album! Everyone has that album! Right?
I also really enjoyed the narrative style. April May talks to the reader as if they have already lived through the experience of the Carls and therefore know who she is and what all happens. She’s basically writing her memoir. Except, obviously, we do not know what is going to happen. I don’t know, I found that really unique and interesting, and I kind of wish there were more pretend celebrity memoirs out there. (Now that I think about it, that’s a big part of what I loved about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as well. I think we’re on to something here!)
If I had to offer one criticism, I didn’t like the frequent use of the forced-what’s-going-to-happen-next plot devices. Things like, “and that was before I died” or “the next day was May 12, and you all know what happened on May 12, wink wink” at the end of a chapter. It felt a little hokey, and the book didn’t need it to hold my attention. I was hooked.
So if you’re into the Sci-Fi/Speculative genre I think you will love this book. If you are involved in social media (which, obviously you are) I think you’ll love this book. If you like puzzles I think you’ll love this book. Guys, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I can’t wait to see what Hank does in the future.