An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

The Carls just appeared. Roaming through New York City 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 armour – April and her best 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 – from Beijing to Buenos Aires – and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carl’s are, but what they want from us.

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I am predisposed to resent people who have what I perceive to be a disproportionate amount of talent. I almost want to dislike their creations because it seems deeply unfair to me for one person to have so much ability in multiple different areas when I am flailing in all of them. Hank Green is one such person. One half of the Vlog Brothers in addition to like a thousand other things, Hank is one of those people I am inclined to blame for my personal failings because he took all the talent before I had a chance to grab a piece. But he is also an adorable man I think it is actually impossible to dislike, so when I heard he was releasing a novel (an intimidating endeavour, I imagine, when your brother is one of the most popular authors currently publishing work), despite his unfairly large piece of the talent pie, I wanted the best for him. In projecting my own imagined inadequacy onto him, I forgot for a moment that Hank Green is good at everything.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green’s debut novel, is really fucking good. A book about Queen-loving aliens that isn’t really about Queen-loving aliens at all; it dissects the dehumanising effect of fame (by others and ourselves), how the power that comes with fame can be used and abused, how we use rhetoric to progress our agenda and how that rhetoric can spin out of control.

Hank Green has written a novel for 2018 – as culturally relevant as it is resonant with the polarising politics of today. When the Carls arrive, April May unexpectedly finds herself at the centre of the news cycle of aliens making first contact with earth – by accidentally making first contact with them. She’d never much thought about fame before – she was barely even on social media – but once in the eye of the media storm she puts all of her energy into remaining there. In April May’s journey from regular Joe to tier five fame we really see the corrupting potential of that fame, as April May even starts to see herself less as a person than a brand. I suppose the work of building your own identity is less when you let everyone else define it for you, and once April May has that and the relevance and attention that comes with it she is utterly unable to let go – at the sacrifice of pretty much everything else in her life.

But the Carls are also the first contact between aliens and Earth and though it may not always seem that way from her perspective, the story is much bigger than April May herself. As time goes on and the Carls remain (doing, it is important to note, nothing at all, for the most part), the world seems to split into two camps. Those who agree with April May, that the Carls are a force for good and promoting togetherness – and those who look at the Carls and see a threat. Led by right-wing media pundit Peter Petrawicki, this group comes to be known as The Defenders (as in, of Earth) from what they perceive to be the alien threat. As the novel progresses the politics of fear espoused by Petrawicki and his Defenders grows, slowly becoming ever more toxic and out of control. Even as a reader seeing the story firmly from April May’s perspective, you are not immune to their rhetoric. For a lot of the novel, the Carls aren’t really doing anything definitely good or bad – they simply exist in a way that was heretofore impossible. But it is in the absence of action that both factions project ideals onto them, and as they fail to live up to either they have, throughout, the potential to be both. Though I can’t get behind the extremism to which The Defenders descend as the book goes on the whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if they had a point.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a novel about a special snowflake – April May, the first human girl to make contact with aliens – that resists that narrative in a really interesting way. As the novel progresses, April May starts asking herself what the Carls saw in her in the first place. What made her so special? Why did they choose her? When she finally has the opportunity to ask the question, the Carls don’t respond – because, I think, there isn’t an answer. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing isn’t about a special girl seeing her specialness finally recognised – it is the opposite. April May is a girl desperate to feel special and worthy of something and so willing to believe in that narrative when it arises – and there is really nothing much more normal than that. Even when there are aliens involved.

There is so much more I could write about this book. I haven’t even touched on April May’s relationships, particularly with her girlfriend, Maya, and how her interactions display a deep and relatable level of insecurity she does a really bad job of hiding. I haven’t talked yet about her monstrous agent, and how certain at times in this book you wonder whether April May stands for her actual beliefs, or simply the stance that gets the most likes on Twitter. But we don’t have all day.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green is just that (an absolutely remarkable thing) – this book is packed with questions, compassion and a pacey sci-fi story I will absolutely return to in the future.

Yep. Hank Green is good at everything.

 

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Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

26. Loves a good story.

18 thoughts on “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”

  1. I JUST WANT TO SCREAM, I am so, so so so happy you’ve read this book and enjoyed it! I’ve read it recently and fell in love with it – and you’re right, Hank Green is good at everything, really. I loved his debut so much, his messages thorough the book about social media, I loved April and how she changed as things happened to her and how popularity made her different, too, I just loved everything. AND THAT ENDING? I am very very very shook by that ending. What did you think of it? I wouldn’t want to leave out spoilers in case someone reads the comments so I won’t say anything, but did you like the ending? Are you screaming like I am??? I am so sorry. I’m so deeply in NEED to talk about this book haha. That was a stunning review ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you loved it to! It is such a wonderful book. And thanks for saying that about my review! This probably sounds weird but I get really stressed about reviewing books that I really loved – I guess I’m afraid I won’t do them justice or something? Not sure.

      Okay so the ending left me with SO MANY QUESTIONS (and not just the obvious one). I think I was so much in shock when I first finished (I know he did warn us but April’s last chapter…!!!) that it took a couple of days for me to get mad at Hank like HOW could you do this to us?! It has been a while since I finished a book so completely… not finished with the people in it. I NEED to know what happens to them next. We might have to petition Hank for another ending. If I am being totally reasonable I can understand why he chose to finish things that way but… seriously! Not okay!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course! I absolutely LOVE reading your reviews, I always find that you have such a great way of conveying your feelings about a story and it’s always so good to read ❤ I think you did such a fantastic job with that one ❤
        I KNOW RIGHT? ME TOO?! There are just SO many questions. I saw there is a second book on goodreads, so……. we might be getting a sequel?! But when, that is the question. I just KNOW that Hank can't leave us like that ahah. I haven't stopped thinking about that book.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Whoa.. is April May a confusing name or what? 🙂 I haven’t read anything by Hank Green, but since you say he’s good at everything.. well.. I will have to reconsider that 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed reading this book! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I know! The stupid thing though is I didn’t even really pick up on it until I was writing this review. At the start of the book she’s mostly just referred to as April, but as she becomes more of a “brand” she turns into April May – so that’s my excuse for not noticing it.

      Thanks 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! What an absolutely stunning review, Lydia! You clearly convey your love for this author’s debut and even make it sound like he is better than his brother too. 😀 I’ve never read anything by either of them, but it’s nice to hear that this one was able to deliver such interesting ideas/messages with such an intriguing and truly mysterious premise/plot! Really glad you had such a great time with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Queen-loving aliens? You have my full attention!

    I like that it’s a relevant book and so complex. You’re right, Hank Green does make us mere mortals frustrated and angry – but I’m glad his amazing story made up for it! As long as he keeps being a source of entertainment and knowledge for people, I guess he’s safe.

    I’m not a sci-fi nerd or anything but this book sounds like it could convert me so I’m willing to give it a shot. I’m also not a huge fan of his brother’s writing but from watching Hank’s videos I’ve realised their voices are completely different and cannot be compared. Thus, my willingness to give him a go – soonish.

    Amazing review as always, Lydia!

    Like

  5. Okay, so can I just say that I love your writing voice/style? I felt like this review was super well-written and so engaging! I wanted to read this novel already, but now I want to EVEN MORE. The part about, “he took all the talent before I had a chance to grab a piece” was so funny and yet #accurate. I feel like this a lot, actually. Thanks for such a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This comment made my day! Thank you so much! Yes, Hank Green does have a disproportionate amount of talent – it is very unfair but I’m glad I get to enjoy it as only a mere mortal with the regular amount of talent and just the 24 hours in a day. I hope you do read the book! I think it’s really difficult to write about the internet and social media well, without being polarizing or preachy, but Hank does it in a really nuanced and compassionate way. It felt like a very necessary book for me right now as I constantly try and renegotiate my relationship with my phone!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand what you about renegotiating how you use electronics. I feel like I am constantly thinking I spend too much time on my computer/iPad/whatever, but never seem to quite figure out how to fix the problem well enough hahahhasobs.

        Liked by 1 person

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