It's been a long time since I've read a book that I couldn't put down. Mr. @hankgreen, your book is absolutely remarkable. ^-^
Also: godDAMN, that ending, man…
— Valerie McLean (@puck_1919) September 30, 2018
So the only thing I read this week was An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. This is for a couple of reasons– reading time + length of book = limited amount I can read a week, this last week was pretty busy, etc. — but that is not to say that AART is a long book that is difficult to read. On the contrary, I had to fight to put it down each time I picked it up. If I didn’t have to sleep, I would have read the whole thing at once as soon as I got my hands on it. This review will have spoilers, but I’ll try to keep them contained to one section that you can easily skip if you haven’t finished it yet.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is the premiere novel of Hank Green, one half of the Vlogbrothers, CEO and founder of several small internet companies, and proud nerd. It is a New Adult Science Fiction novel about a 23-year-old post-graduation, pre-career art student named April May, who is rocketed to internet stardom after she and her friend Andy make a viral video about the sudden appearance of a strange statue on 23rd Street in New York City. As it turns out, multiple copies of these statues, who are all named Carl after a joke April made in her video, have appeared all around the world at once, and all seem to be the exact same. Through a series of puzzles, a few calls from the President of the United States, and some very weird dreams, April has to figure out why the Carls are there and what it is they actually want.
New Adult and the Internet Generation
So, I called AART a “New Adult” novel. “New Adult” is not really a genre in the same way that “Young Adult” isn’t a genre– it’s a marketing identification. In the same way that The Hunger Games and The Outsiders are not the same books, AART is not the same as many other New Adult books, but it does cover some similar identifiers. New Adult is often compared to Young Adult as well, as Young Adult is a little more established in the public consciousness. What makes a novel a New Adult novel is primarily the themes of the book and the age of the protagonist. Where Young Adult novels tend to cover coming-of-age, self-discovery fiction about kids who are high school age (or a little older), New Adult covers the 18 – 35 demographic, and is more about a person establishing their place in the world, separate from themselves and others. It’s dealing with being an adult, as opposed to becoming an adult. 23-year-old April May is out of college, has an apartment, and is just starting out in her career when she comes across Carl for the first time. While she deals with personal flaws throughout the novel, she is not really finding out who she is so much as she is finding out how she fits into the world, especially the new world that the Carls are shaping.
This is also why it is significant that she is an internet celebrity. April is an internet native, having grown up with sites like YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, and they’re part of the fabric of her life. Her internet stardom also gives her a career in making internet content– a trait that she shares with her author and several of his friends. More and more Millennials and Gen Z people are making their careers or at least making money from internet content– be it self-created and curated, or by their positions in larger organizations. Making a living creating internet content is under the umbrella of “nice work if you can get it” and due to the permeation of the technology and regulations from various governments, it is getting harder and harder to carve out a space for yourself. But organically finding an audience is still possible, and new shows and blogs and channels are made every day. Personally, I saw a great authenticity to April’s journey as a internet celebrity, there were times when her voice sounded very close to people who I know run in the same internet circles as Hank Green (hello, Ms. Ellis, love your videos btw). And of course, Hank Green is coming from an inside perspective as someone who has established his career on a series of internet videos. In some respects, this book is as much about the good and the bad of internet stardom as it is about the actual plot.
For v Against
One of the major themes that I want to talk about in the book is the theme of being for something or against something. And not necessarily about the concept of debate, but about how people approach debate and ideas. For example, you can be for walnuts in banana bread without being against nut-less banana bread, but if you are against the concept of banana bread, regardless of nuts, the argument of whether or not to put walnuts in it is ridiculous to begin with. Basically, you can be for something without being against the counterargument, but if you are against something, your position is always going to be informed by that. April’s primary antagonist (though the story isn’t really built around defeating him, it’s more complicated than that) is someone who is against the Carls. He thinks that they pose an immediate threat to the world (but mostly America). Thus, he is against any discussion of what the Carls want, or why they are there, or what to do with the puzzles that they are leaving– he simply thinks that they are bad and anyone who is interested in studying them or talking about them or trying to understand them is also bad. While April is mostly for the Carls, she does get to a point where she is against this idea that the Carls are bad. Hank Green’s political commentary is pointed, and very much falls within the “Does this remind you of anything?” category of allegory, but it’s mostly making the point that being for things is ultimately more fulfilling than being against things.
Okay, the next paragraph or two are going to be filled with spoilers and my opinions on such. You have been warned.
I’ll be honest, I was hooked from the first paragraph. April starts off talking about how she is just a person and that the story she’s about to tell is very “pro-me” as she puts it, but it was the last sentence that got me: “If you get anything out of this, ideally it won’t be you being more or less on one side or the other, but simply understanding that I am (or at least was) human.” That “or at least was” got me. What the hell happened that made her humanity past tense? And how long are you going to make me wait to find out, Hank? HOW LONG?
Because the Carls are aliens, because of course they are. And April May accidentally made first contact with her video. The President gets involved, it’s a whole thing. The Carls also transmit these dreams called the Dream– it’s not a shared dream in that people aren’t aware of other people in the same dreamscape, but everyone is having the same dream and has to solve puzzles within that dream. I love all of this. But April gets into trouble very late into the book and it almost seems as though she dies, despite the fact that she’d been narrating this from a point in the future. The very last chapter is narrated by her friend Andy and covers the next few weeks after her apparent death, and then he gets a text from her.
I need answers Hank. Come on, dude.
Okay, spoilers done now.
Should you read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing? I mean, it’s a great book, but it’s not going to be for everyone. This is written under the assumption that much of your life is spent on the internet, watching videos, scrolling Twitter, and that you have an understanding of how the people that get famous on those platforms get famous. There is also an examination of how messages of hate and fear are permeated through the internet that’s written in a very clear and pointed manner. You can tell that certain events were on Hank Green’s mind.
That being said, the prose is funny and engaging. April, while a flawed person for sure, is also very sympathetic and you understand what, how, and why many of the events unfold before her. It will be interesting to see, if and when there is a sequel, how the next events unfold.
Rating: 5/5 — As I said in my tweet, it’s been a very long time since I’ve read a book I couldn’t put down. Take that for what it’s worth.
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