"An Absolutely Remarkable Thing" by Hank Green
From time to time, I reflect on how amazingly different our lives are today than they were, say, 25 years ago.
When I was a child, my pastime of choice was watching Punky Brewster — which I recorded, episode by episode, on my mom’s Betamax player.
And I was satisfied with it.
I was content to watch the episode where Henry gets an ulcer and Punky suggest that he swallows a Band-aid to cure it, again... and again... and again... because that was my only option.
But now, my child — who, at 9 years old, is ostensibly the same age as I was when I started driving my mom to madness with my Punky marathons — has a literal fucking wealth of entertainment at his tiny, spoiled fingertips.
Want to watch something new? Just turn on Netflix and choose from the seemingly millions of titles.
Of course, increased accessibility to media isn't the only way the world has literally transformed during my just-over-three-decade-long lifetime.
Another thing that has been entirely modernized — and, by connection, simplified — is the way in which people connect.
If something of even the most minor significance occurs now — Say, for example, that Taylor Swift breaks up with her most recent boyfriend — I'll basically know about it before she even finishes the it’s-not-you-it’s-me speech — which I can only imagine is part of her normal relationship severing process. I'll be made immediately aware of this largely unimportant event by a BuzzFeed push notification, or a Twitter alert, or a text from some news channel I subscribed to, or a sudden rash of Taylor-will-be-forever-alone themed Insta posts clogging up my otherwise bookish feed.
But when I was a child, if I wasn't at home... and watching TV... the moon could have literally fucking exploded and I might not have known about it.
This novel, the first by Hank Green, was, ultimately:
A love-story dedicated to (?)
cautionary tale about (?)
(I’m still deciding between the two)
the hyper-connected world in which we live.
As the novel opens, we are introduced to a seemingly generic millennial with a dedicated memorable name, April May.
Fresh out of college, April is slaving away at some dot-com start-up in New York City.
As she leaves her indentured servitude of a job at 3 am, she runs into a mysterious statue — which she logically assumes is some elaborate art installation.
Intrigued, she does what any good millennial would do — calls her friend Andy and asks him to come and help her make a YouTube video starring this creepy ass statue and co-starring her.
They make the video.
He uploads it.
And they go to bed.
But when April May wakes up unfashionably late the next day, she finds that her simple decision has turned her world upside down.
As it would turn out, this statue — which she nicknamed Carl — wasn’t some uber-expensive display of modern art.
Nor was the New York Carl the only statue of this type.
In fact, the same statue appeared, seemingly out of thin air, in major cities around the globe.
And, much to April’s initial delight but ultimate dismay, her hastily uploaded YouTube video was the first Carl-related online footprint, which puts her right in the center of this intriguing mystery.
As April works with the rest of humanity to uncover the truth of the Carls— in a way that would have basically been impossible in 1982 — she doesn’t just learn more about the statues, she also discovers who she truly is and what, ultimately, is important to her.
Now, if you’ve read literally any of my reviews before this, you most certainly know that succinct isn’t really my style.
However, I can sum this book up in one — okay, give me two — words.
But I have never read a book like this.
The plot was fresh and erudite and actually incredibly important.
Any voracious reader will likely be able to tell that Hank Green isn’t a trained writer.
But, in this case, this lack of formal training appeared to work to his advantage.
Unlike so many hindered-by-the-rules writers, Green seemed more willing to take risks.
He took liberties with form and point-of-view and style.
And it worked.
In the end, this novel ended up feeling more like a communal story — Like a really modern, thoroughly tech-infused, folk take, told ‘round the fire — than a stuffy, artificially important novel.
Readers — particularly millennial ones — will connect with April May (and, trust me, her cheesetacular name will only bother you for a little bit).
Like so many of us who are reaping the rewards of technological advancements that have developed at a rate one can only describe as overwhelming, she’s still trying to find her place in the world.
Trying to leave her mark while simultaneously struggling to decide what she wants that mark to be.
When I picked up this book, I had one worry. That it would be too “techy”.
I’ve never, personally, been a huge fan of science fiction, particularly because I get bored AF by long, drawn out, explanations of cellular divisions or time-travel-enabling technologies that involve bending the fabric of time…
Blah, blah, blah.
Much to my delight, though, this worry ended up being unwarranted.
Don’t get me wrong, there were times when this book did venture a bit into the weeds — something that extreme tech nerds will probably love.
Occasionally, there would be a relatively deep discussion about some scientific phenomenon that proved that, though science fiction, not everything proposed in this novel would have to be fictional.
But, even these science-rich commercial breaks of sorts weren’t painful.
Green didn’t beat his readers over the head with the science.
So, as someone with only a passing interest in whether or not any of this would, technically, be possible, I wasn’t turned off by these nerdist-of-nerdy asides.
I waited several weeks after finishing this novel to write this review.
Because I wanted to digest it.
And these intervening 20-some days have made one thing clear to me:
This is a book I will remember.
Since finishing this book and moving on to others, my mind has ventured back to it multiple times.
And that, to me, is the ultimate proof that this novel itself is an absolutely remarkable thing.
Oddly important and deeply powerful, I would recommend it without reservation.
It easily earns 5 out of 5 cocktails.
Onwards I go. Want to see my next read? Follow me, here.
First Mike Chen’s amazing Here and Now and Then and now this novel? Maybe… I do like science fiction after all?
I should probably explore this.
So, tell me, what sci-fi books do you absolutely love? I want to add some to my TBR. Leave your suggestions in the comments, below.