Kelly Gallagher ’22
“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is the sort of title that sets high expectations for itself, but Hank Green’s debut novel rises to the challenge. Already a bestseller after its September 25 release, it tells the story of April May, who becomes a social media sensation after posting a video of a gigantic robot statue that mysteriously appears in Manhattan. Author Hank Green, of CrashCourse and Vlogbrothers Youtube fame, delivers a clever, funny novel that doesn’t shy away from its complexities.
The protagonist April May rightfully joins the ranks of the greatest characters in published fiction of this decade. Her popularity within the book is no wonder, as her charisma draws readers in while her snark and passion wins them over. She’s a likeable character, but what sets her apart from the droves of likeable characters found in modern fiction is that she is genuinely flawed. These flaws run deeper than shyness or a Starbucks vice. April makes horrible decisions, she consistently pushes her friends around, and her greed for the spotlight is not at all admirable. April is flawed, fearful, insecure, funny, courageous, and full of wonder. Budding novelists, take note: this is how you write a realistic, multifaceted character.
April’s experience with fame is more than a naive romp through social media. Once her video goes viral overnight, the book details her very intentional efforts to maintain her popularity. Driven by both a desire to promote a positive message about the enigmatic statue and an unsavory desperation to remain a hot topic, she develops herself into a brand and cultivates a comforting image free of her personal complexities. It’s a nuanced, behind-the-scenes look at the mindset of a social media personality. The book thus provides an examination of power and social media: how April gains and increases her power, how she uses the power she holds over her audience, and how her audience ultimately holds power over her.
The final major component of “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is the bizarre appearance of the robot statue, which April dubs “Carl” (it sounds corny in the summary, but the name is far more endearing in the novel). As it turns out, 63 other Carls simultaneously appear all over the world. Yet the book sidesteps the old invasion tropes with a refreshing new take. The Carls aren’t evil or benevolent; they seem merely curious. They don’t wreak havoc, allowing New York real estate agencies to heave a sigh of relief as the robots simply stand on the same patch of sidewalk. Although the Carls represent something tantalizingly bigger than one woman, this is ultimately April’s story.
“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is a well-written, fun, even thought-provoking read. It’s an extremely satisfying book to cozy up with on a Saturday afternoon – until the end, at which point you’re left only wanting more.