An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Publishing Details: Dutton, September 2018
Back-of-the-Book Summary: In his wildly entertaining debut novel, Hank Green—cocreator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShow—spins a sweeping, cinematic tale about a young woman who becomes an overnight celebrity before realizing she’s part of something bigger, and stranger, than anyone could have possibly imagined.
As a long-time fan of both John and Hank Green and their various escapades on YouTube, I’ve been meaning to read this book forever. The title and cover are both so Hank, and I was really curious to see how he would go about writing a novel. I’m so used to seeing him produce nonfiction work, primarily through video format, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
What I Liked:
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a mystery novel, a Millennial coming-of-age story, an insightful treatise on the nature of fame and celebrity, and a truly, absolutely remarkable thing. I cannot explain how much I loved this book.
My favorite aspect of the book is the mystery. From one puzzle to the next, I truly had no idea where it would lead. I love books that make me feel just a little bit dumb. Like if I were just a tad smarter, I might have been able to see where the mystery was leading, but alas, I am but a simple fool. To me, that is a sign that the author really thought about how the narrative should logically progress and almost gave the reader enough clues to figure it out, but withheld just enough to keep them guessing. It’s the total antithesis of the latest trend of completely nonsensical plot twists that prioritize shock factor over good fucking writing, which I am now calling the Game of Thrones Corollary.
If you aren’t much of a mystery person, don’t click away just yet. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is far from an Agatha Christie novel. It is also a terrific book about life as a Millennial. Although Hank Green is barely considered a Millennial, he still manages to re-create the Millennial experience with total accuracy. April May (the main character) is full of depth, living a life that really feels like it extends beyond the bounds of the novel, and the same goes for all the other characters in the book, even somewhat minor ones. Hank has a way of considering humans complexly, something he and his brother talk about all the time. It was wonderful to see that translated so beautifully from real-world discussions on YouTube to fictional characters in this book.
Even though Hank does both of these things beautifully, mystery and Millennialism, it’s his insights on fame and celebrity, especially in our precarious political climate, that make it such a masterpiece. I think a lot of Millennials crave a small taste of fame because the world today shows so little regard for our (or future generations’) wellbeing. And part of us thinks that if we could just get people’s attention, we could fix things. We are terrified of being meaningless cogs in a machine that is actively destroying the world. But as Hank so eloquently shows, fame is not the answer to these problems. Fame distorts, and it is nearly impossible to bring about meaningful change through 18 layers of distortion and manipulation. We see this through April May’s journey with the Carls, and Hank does a beautiful job of showing how our craving for fame is almost always driven by personal hangups rather than a pure and incorruptible desire to do good, and how that can have seriously dire consequences when played out to the extreme.
Oh, also, this line exists, and may be my favorite line in any book ever: “Behold the field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and see that it is barren.” I mean, how are you supposed to not love a book with lines like that?
What I Disliked:
I honestly loved everything about this book. I would not change anything at all. However, just because this book was right up my alley, that doesn’t necessarily make it flawless. After all, I am a dramatic, liberal, Millennial and I have a very specific point of view, and that may create some blind spots. In this section, I will do my utmost to take a good long hard look at one potential blind spot.
The book’s insights on fame are inherently political, and they prioritize cooperation and understanding above moral absolutism. The book repeatedly takes the stance that the only cure to extremism is compassion, and it may have been a little heavy-handed. It’s possible that I didn’t notice the lack of subtlety because I tend to agree with this sentiment. But regardless of whether or not I agree, novels are typically much more effective and enjoyable when the social messages are woven into the narrative instead of spelled out directly for the reader. Show, don’t tell and all that jazz.
That’s really the only criticism I can muster, so if you want a harsher critique of the book, you’re just going to have to read it yourself.
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you like any of Hank’s YouTube channels (links in the summary section)
- …you enjoy a good mystery
- …you are a Millennial looking for good fiction about life for young(ish) people today
- …you feel overwhelmed by our current political climate and want to process it in a fictional setting
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