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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Review

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

It is very rare for a debut author to find himself or herself with a built-in audience of millions and a New York Times bestselling fan, yet that is the situation in which Hank Green (one half of the Vlog Brothers, where he is joined by uber-famous author John Green) has found himself with the release of AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING. Unlike his brother, who writes contemporary YA tearjerkers, Hank, influenced by books like DUNE, has turned his eye to science fiction, though his work bears the same whip-smart dialogue, trendy social media references and breezy tone as his brother’s.

AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING follows April May, a 20-something queer artist, as she is leaving her meaningless start-up job at 3:00 one morning, overworked and underpaid. Something curious happens as April attempts to swipe her MetroCard, forcing her to head back to her New York City office to get her other card that has more money on it. As she walks back, she notices something she had completely missed before: a 10-foot-tall metal statue. Torn between her effortlessly (read: requiring tremendous effort) cool New York sensibility to ignore it and her passion for art, she decides to call her friend Andy, who is always looking to go viral. Andy arrives shortly, armed with recording equipment, and the two create a humorous video in which April names the statue Carl. Strangely, this is the last normal moment of April and Andy’s lives.

"Green quickly proves himself adept not only at playing into our 2018 anxiety and love/hate relationship with social media, but also at driving suspense, world-building and a true love for science fiction that feels reminiscent of READY PLAYER ONE."

By the next morning, it is revealed that “Carls” have popped up in cities all over the world, with no records of who placed them or how. As one of the first reports of the phenomenon, April and Andy’s video has gone viral, and Andy’s powerful lawyer father has threatened to sue multiple high-ranking newscasters who aired the video without consent. April and Andy are now rich enough to quit their jobs and follow their dreams, but as they start to become famous, it becomes less and less clear what those dreams might be. April, who still watches movies and shows from the 1990s and never the news, is initially ambivalent about all of it, but as the power starts to go to her head, she also must investigate Carl’s origins and determine, once and for all, if she truly has made First Contact. Oh, and no pressure, it’s only the entire world watching her every move.

From this point on, the novel focuses on April’s transformation into a star, someone with a voice, an outlet and an assistant. But Green does not follow the predictable “small town girl gets famous, discovers having it all means nothing if you don’t remember your roots” storyline. Instead, he presents an intensely self-aware yet nuanced look into cyberfame, power and notoriety. April is self-aware enough to know that she is turning herself into a tool and, for the most part, can explain why she is doing it, and yet she is woefully unaware of the effect fame is having on her personal life. It is perhaps as honest a look as we will ever get into the phenomenon of cyberfame, and Green balances this careful introspection with a plotline that is both fun and mysterious, puzzling and compelling.

As April begins to investigate the Carls, a few strange details quickly make the case for labeling the mysterious statues as aliens. First, the material they are made from is clearly not from Earth. Second, at the moment the Carls appeared, any and all security cameras that might have caught them went blank, with only the faint sounds of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” playing through the darkness. Working with a research scientist, April becomes certain that the Carls are of “external origin.” But when everyone in proximity to the Carls begins having the same puzzle-filled dream, the word “alien” is on everyone’s lips. The country --- and the world --- begins to fall into two separate politically driven camps with very different ideas about April and what to do about the Carls. But as the Carls become a canvas onto which the public can paint their prejudices, political motives and threats, so too does April.

Green quickly proves himself adept not only at playing into our 2018 anxiety and love/hate relationship with social media, but also at driving suspense, world-building and a true love for science fiction that feels reminiscent of READY PLAYER ONE. AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING is witty, charming and fast-paced enough for a terrific weekend read, but also subtly introspective. It is clear that Green has drawn from his own experiences as a content creator, and while his dialogue can be a bit too trendy, he explores some really interesting topics (April’s relationship with her girlfriend/roommate is fantastic). While this book may not appeal to older readers, it is perfect for those who grew up on the internet and are ready to see themselves portrayed in a smart, compelling novel.

The book ends on a cliffhanger that hopefully will lead to a sequel. If it doesn’t, then I’m deeply satisfied with Green’s first foray into writing, and I look forward to what he does next.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 28, 2018

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
by Hank Green

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN-10: 1524743445
  • ISBN-13: 978-1524743444