BookBrowse Reviews An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

by Hank Green

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green X
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
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  • Published:
    Sep 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Szczechowski

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After 23-year-old April May uploads a video of herself making contact with a robot of alien origin, she is confronted with the strange, amazing and dangerous ramifications of fame.

As one half of the extremely popular YouTube duo "Vlogbrothers" (the other half being his brother John Green), Hank Green is no stranger to fame, and consequently in a good position to explore this theme in his debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. While some might have worried if Hank could live up to his brother's literary reputation, clearly any concerns were allayed when An Absolutely Remarkable Thing debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week on sale. Hank is also treading his own path by writing with adults in mind (though its sci-fi themes will likely appeal to younger readers as well) while John's books have focused on the young adult genre.

Superficially, the book is about giant robots sent from outer space but on a deeper level it is about the corrupting influence of fame, particularly on a young person whose identity may not be fully formed. When 23-year-old protagonist April May stumbles upon a gigantic robot statue (which she names Carl), she believes it is just another interesting piece of New York City street art and calls her friend Andy to help her film a video about it. But when April wakes up the next day, she not only discovers that her video has gone viral, but that these "Carls" have popped up all over the world. When scientists confirm that the robots are made from materials not known to humankind, and are, in fact, extraterrestrial, April is catapulted into fame as the world realizes that she is the one who made first contact.

April becomes even more of a legend when it is discovered that everyone in the world is suddenly dreaming the same dream, which April had first, and somehow spread to everybody else. The dream becomes a series of dreams, within which are thousands of puzzles that require teamwork and ingenuity to crack. Trying to stay on top of both the mystery of the Carls as well as her newly acquired celebrity status, April finds herself the face of The Dreamers – a group of people who work together online to try to solve the puzzles within the dreams. The Dreamers believe that the aliens behind the Carls are benevolent, but an opposition movement of people calling themselves the Defenders believe that the aliens are malicious, and that April is being paid off by the government...or worse, in cahoots with the aliens. As the Defenders begin to rise in prominence, April finds that fame isn't just unpleasant or stressful; it's deadly.

Although giant robots sent by aliens may sound like a plot point from a dark, dystopian work of science fiction, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing doesn't take itself too seriously, and even pokes fun at itself occasionally, such as when the theory of aliens first comes into play: "When something is impossible to explain, you post the GIF of the guy with the hair saying, 'ALIENS.' It's just what you do...no one wants to be the weirdo advocating for the 'It's aliens!' theory on cable news." That said, the true focal point of the book is not really the extraterrestrials, but April's journey from a regular, anonymous girl to a world sensation.

Just as April's fame begins to take off, she sits down with Andy to brainstorm how to market herself, and as the book progresses, April becomes less a person, and more of a brand. This is perhaps necessary because April May is not the most likable of protagonists – she can be narcissistic and self-destructive, and often pushes away those who care most about her in ways that leave said people hurt, confused and alone. And in a lot of ways, her sudden rise to fame magnifies these traits. But at the same time, she is incredibly relatable, and one can easily empathize with the choices she makes, even when (or maybe especially when) they are the wrong ones.

Despite her personal flaws, we root for April because she is using her fame and voice to combat the hateful views of the Defenders. Although Green never calls out the Trump administration by name (and, in fact, the president of the United States in An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a level-headed, competent woman), he definitely indicts the kind of fear-mongering and hateful vitriol that is so often used when discussing groups who are perceived as the "other." Equal parts political and personal, fun and serious, critical and optimistic, witty and savvy, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing lives up to its title.

Reviewed by Erin Szczechowski

This review is from the October 31, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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