An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
Author: Hank Green
Series: The Carls, #1
Page Count: 352
Original Publication Date: 2018
Genre(s): New adult, Science fiction, Contemporary
While walking home from work at 3AM, April May encounters a giant, robot-like sculpture in the middle of a sidewalk in New York. Thinking it’s cool and quirky, April calls her best friend Andy, and together they made a YouTube video, naming the sculpture ‘Carl.’ By morning, Carls have been discovered all over the world. Being the first to find and document them, April is thrust into the limelight. And with this social change comes change in every other aspect of her life, along with one question: are the Carls here to help us or hurt us? Finding out the truth might get her killed.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hank Green’s debut novel is a giant success. Writing runs in the family, I suppose. Good writing, at that. When Hank’s book was announced, I was excited, but I didn’t think it’d have such an impact on me. After seeing Hank (and John) on tour (and actually getting to meet both of them holy heck I met my heroes!), and after having read his novel, I can’t believe I wasn’t more excited those many months ago. I didn’t know then what I know now: Hank Green can tell a story.
Right from the start, I was transfixed with the story. First of all, APRIL MAY—WHAT A COOL NAME! So disappointed my parents didn’t come up with something cooler than ‘Alyssa.’ I mean, Alyssa isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have a ring to it like April May. Just sayin’. Also, coolest twitter handle ever: AprilMaybeNot. Can Hank please create a cool twitter handle for me? Anyway. Along with this was the very relatable dynamic of April and Maya. College roommates and best friends who suddenly hook up and then start dating?????? That is literally my life. Hank, you stole my story! I’m not mad, though. I am actually really happy that I could relate to April in such an intimate way.
So, take all of that, and then throw giant space robots into the mix, and you basically have An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. There you have it. That’s it. There’s my review.
Just kidding. The book is a lot more than just a simple sci-fi adventure, though it is definitely a crazy sci-fi adventure. Let’s start with that. This book was crazy!! Hank really surprised me, there. I was not expecting this book to reach some of the levels it did. At one point, Hank even warns you about a particularly unsettling scene, suggesting if you are squeamish to maybe skip it, and I was not expecting that. The book genuinely makes you feel uncomfortable, especially that gut-wrenching scene. The entire book kind of gives you this feeling of slimy dread sliding down your throat, whether you think the Carls are good or bad. It’s definitely a wild ride from start to finish. There’s plenty of action that’ll make your heart race. I know mine did.
But all that action is broken up with Big Thoughts and Deep Criticisms, not necessarily slowing down the novel but instead dragging it out in the most delicious ways. Yes, the book is fast-paced and science fiction-y, but it’s also a criticism of fame and social media, and the addiction we as 21st century humans face when it comes to social media and technology. And who better to write about those kinds of topics other than Hank, someone who, through technology and social media, became “internet famous.”
On his book tour, Hank talked a lot about the positives and negatives of social media. It was captivating to me as someone who enjoys spending more time on the internet than at a social gathering. Many people measure their self-worth in Likes and re-tweets and comments with heart-eye emojis. I think Hank took that discussion, along with his own experiences, and morphed it into AART. While reading, I hear Hank’s voice prominently, and I can see where he drew influence from his own life. He writes very similarly to the way he talks, like his brother John does. I love it. It very much makes the book feel real rather than forced, something many adults struggle with when writing for and from the perspective of young adults.
Early on—like, in-the-first-paragraph early on—we as readers determine April is “writing” this book in the present about her past, starting with discovering New York Carl. She addresses us readers as “you” and constantly breaks that fourth wall by warning us that we’re probably going to hate her for some things she does. Spoiler alert: she makes a lot of bad decisions, but I never disliked her. I disagreed with her constantly, but she’s only human, and that’s the whole point. But even though I disagreed with her, I also saw myself in her. Not just with the whole relationship situation and sexual identity, but also in her self-doubt, her most self-conscious moments, her instant attraction to social media fame. I get it. I do. I think a lot of people do.
“Basically, do your best to mock and deride their connection and appreciation of you because, deep down, you dislike yourself enough that you cannot imagine anyone worthwhile actually wanting to be with you. I mean, if they like you, there must be something wrong with them, right?”
April is a fantastic narrator.
The other characters, whether minor or major, all have very distinct personalities and roles to play in the book. I genuinely wish I could hang out with the gang—April, Andy, Miranda, Maya, Robin. They are all so endearing and so…human. I love them, and I will always root for April and Maya (yes I am probably biased).
I’m so very glad I decided to become a part of nerdfighteria, and even more glad that I went to see Hank read from and talk about his book. As a blogger and a human trying to become more of a presence of social media, this is a really important book. I think people should read this not only for the fun fiction of it all, but also for the truth that lies between. There’s so many topics packed into one book: fame, sexuality, friendship, politics, relationships, technology, the human condition, social media…but what really hit home for me is, it’s easy to become addicted to something, and it’s easy to forget you are a person, not a brand.
Knock knock. We’re waiting, Hank.
–“This may sound dumb, but just being a twenty-something in New York City made me feel important.”
–“I’m not much older now than I was then, but in a lot of ways, I’m a different person.”
–“Knowing something is a bad idea does not always decrease the odds that you will do it.”
–“But I happen to not be…just gay. I’m gay and straight? It’s great, I don’t even know what it would be like to not be attracted to a person because of their gender.”
–“Books are the most intensive of all current media. People are willing to spend hours and hours with a book.”
–“I know how easy it is to feel like you don’t matter if no one’s watching.”
–“What is reality except for the things that people universally experience the same way?”
…there’s so many more…