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COLUMN: ‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’ is a messy thing


“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is written by Hank Green. The book tells the story of art school graduate April May, who rockets to internet stardom after posting a YouTube video about the sudden appearance of a human-like statue in New York City.  Photo illustration by Ty Vinson

Hank Green, brother of author John Green, is no stranger to internet fame. He’s behind Crash Course and SciShow on YouTube, and has founded multiple small businesses, including VidCon and Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.

His newest foray into writing, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” tells the story of art school graduate April May, who rockets to internet stardom after posting a YouTube video about the sudden appearance of a human-like statue in New York City. 

Many more of these statues appear throughout the world, and no one can explain where they came from or why. April becomes an internet phenomenon and spokeswoman in search of answers to the question: Why are these statues (collectively named "Carls") here? On the journey, she confronts the harsh realities of fame and its inherent dangers.

The book is written in a style ubiquitous to young adult literature, but the arbitrary use of explicit language, adult themes and an older protagonist skew the target audience towards more mature readers. Green certainly strives to tell a tale more grim than other YA novels.

As the story progresses, April indulges in the power of her stardom and sees how her god-like status twists her life into sometimes grotesque forms. However, she grows and learns through the struggle. Indeed, the novel is a coming-of-age story as much as it is science fiction.

It’s a shame her megalomania comes off as incredibly insincere. Her constant ruminations on her own power are far too cognizant for a young college graduate so quickly addicted to it. April is clearly a mouthpiece through which Green can talk about his own experiences and speculations on internet fame.

Ultimately, he shoots wide of the empathy needed to portray such a character with sincerity. Because as much narrative emphasis is placed on April’s experience with fame as is placed on the origin of the Carls, that it mars the novel’s authenticity.

Empathy is the novel’s interesting, albeit heavy-handed, topical subtext for immigration and xenophobia. Will humanity comes together to understand the Carls? Or will they live in fear of the mysterious, supposedly alien statues and react with hatred?

Again, behind April’s narration is clearly Green’s self-aware and studied commentary, which belies April’s naive character. It’s as if he’s standing behind the page, shouting, “I’m Hank Green, and this is my social commentary.” 

Despite this, his critique still manages to be interesting, even if it’s wrapped up in clunky prose and too obviously in the voice of Hank Green, rather than April May.

April, though imperfect, is too in control of her situation to be a character of much interest. Her ability to explain how her next tweet will affect the world with immaculate sociological knowledge sucks the excitement out of potentially tense moments and leaves the reader feeling spoon-fed. Ultimately, she, and the plot, feel artificial as cardboard.

The rest of the cast fares about as well, in that they are portrayed with as much nuance as their subservient, plot-developing roles allow. Only characters such as Maya and Andy, April’s girlfriend and best friend respectively, offer any grasp at relationship-fueled conflict.

The book’s portrayal of science and sci-fi concepts are interesting, though usually unnecessary. After the Carl statues arrive, people begin entering a collective dream-conscious in their sleep, aptly called the Dream (YA novel editors: Ominously Capitalized Common Noun? Check). Green goes also into detail on other scientific concepts, such as different types of hexadecimal coding and table of elements, to the point where skipping pages to rediscover the narrative is justified.

The novel ends with vital questions remaining unanswered, such as: Why did the Carls arrive? What was their purpose? Green almost certainly left these questions unresolved with a sequel in mind, but the intrigue fades by the last page and inspires no hope for a second wind in the next book.

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