By Teresa Ugarte
When you think of Hank Green, you don’t think of a novelist. That’s his brother, John, who famously wrote “The Fault in Our Stars.” But Hank, who is primarily a science educator and business owner, has recently taken up his brother’s profession, and has done extraordinarily well. Green’s debut novel, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” launched itself to the top of the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best Seller List just a few weeks after its September 25 release, and it’s well worth the read.
The novel centers around April May, a bisexual 20-something art school graduate living in Manhattan. On her way home from work late one night, April discovers a sculpture, which she describes as “a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor.” Thinking it’s an art installation, she calls her friend Andy and they make a goofy video with the statue, which they dub Carl. They then upload the video to YouTube. Within hours, they realize that the Carl they found is one of dozens, nobody knows who or what they are, and that April was the first one to discover and record their presence. April is quickly launched into a whirlwind of publicity and fame, which she first resists, then embraces.
The characters are relatable, the plot is engaging, and the social commentary is sharp. April’s retrospective narration allows the reader to critically examine April’s actions alongside April herself, helping us understand her choices and their consequences. The Carls provide a compelling mystery for us to solve alongside the characters. And, crucially, the book doesn’t villainize or glorify the social function of the internet. It simply shows us what it can do and how it can be used, and allows us, as readers, to draw our own conclusions about it. It’s a refreshing take on this long-debated and often misunderstood topic.
Calling “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” a criticism of social media would undermine Green’s unique perspective and distract from the point of the novel. Green is not a befuddled baby boomer groaning about how the internet ruined social interaction — he himself is an internet personality, and an active participant in social media. His book isn’t designed to take a shot at millenials for spending too much time on their phones, it’s designed to make you think about how you’re using your phone. How are your interactions online affecting you and the world around you? Is it a good impact? A bad one? Or something in between?
Green’s ideas are strong, but he’s still new to fiction writing. The pacing isn’t perfect, and there are parts of the novel that feel more like an essay rather than an internal monologue. That said, it’s still well-done for a debut, and the book is itself is still very enjoyable.
Equal parts funny, thought-provoking, and exciting, Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is a must-read for anyone with an internet connection.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hank Green’s Facebook page.
Teresa Ugarte is a freshman journalism and English major and can be reached at email@example.com.