by Sarah Pennington
What do you do when you find a mysterious statue of a giant robot on the streets of New York City? If you’re April May, the protagonist of Hank Green’s debut novel “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” you call a friend and make a YouTube video about it. Then April’s video goes viral and she finds out that the statue, and hundreds of other identical statues across the globe, just might be humanity’s first contact with an alien. Suddenly, she’s thrust into the center of a mystery and onto a global stage. April must navigate her growing fame and new position as celebrity defender of the “Carls,” as the statues come to be called, at the same time as she tries to solve the mystery of what the statues really are and why they’re here.
Here’s the first thing readers should know about “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”: Though technically in the science fiction genre, most of the novel is really a contemporary narrative about how fame and the internet affects a person’s life. Hank Green, as the creator or co-creator of Vlogbrothers, VidCon, Crash Course, SciShow, Complexly and more, knows a thing or two about fame. Throughout the novel, he reflects clearly and thoughtfully on how exciting, addictive and even dehumanizing life in the spotlight can be. This last point is what gives the book its greatest power, as April May’s fame leads her to essentially turn herself and her life into a story, a brand and a tool for conveying ideas. And, in the end, readers see the self-destruction that she wreaks through those choices.
The second thing to know about “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is that some of its content may bother Christian readers. Strong language, including the f-bomb, appears repeatedly. April May is bisexual; she begins the story living with her girlfriend, and, later in the story, is implied to have sex with another female character. In addition, there are a few instances of violence when April May is attacked by her opponents, and some of these occasions may be disturbing to readers. (The worst incident is prefaced with a warning, so sensitive readers can skip it.) These elements of the book don’t mean that Christians shouldn’t read “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” at all. But they do mean that Christian readers should engage with care, and younger readers may want to wait before cracking the cover.
Despite the aforementioned content, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” contains quite a bit that readers can appreciate. April May and the other characters are messy, interesting, realistic humans with equally messy, interesting, realistic relationships. The plot moves smoothly and includes a good balance of contemporary reflection and sci-fi mystery solving. And Vlogbrothers fans will immediately recognize Hank Green’s unique voice from his videos, along with some of the ideas he’s reflected on in those videos.
That doesn’t mean that “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” does everything right. Readers are reminded a few more times than necessary that April May is good-looking, a repetition that becomes frustrating after a while. In addition, readers looking for a story that neatly ties up all its loose ends at the conclusion may find themselves disappointed. While the mystery is technically solved, several questions are left unanswered. Thankfully, Hank Green has announced plans for a sequel. Less thankfully, he has not announced any significant information about that sequel.
For the moment, fans of Hank Green and “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” will simply have to patiently wait. But at least this novel, with its fascinating premise, realistic characters, and thoughtful reflections on the effects of fame and the internet, will give readers plenty to think about in the meantime.
Sarah Pennington is a junior professional writing and information design major and an arts and entertainment reporter for Cedars. She loves chai tea and dragons and is perpetually either reading or writing a book.