Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Literally the Best Reviews: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing - Hank Green
Dutton Publishing
352 Pages

Sometimes a book just grips you right from the jacket summary and doesn’t let go until you’ve finished the book and return it to the library. Such is the case with An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. While I found this book on the science-fiction shelves at the library, this novel transcends that simple genre, and instead explores the human condition and the effects of instant celebrity in a social media world.

What appears to be a ten-foot tall transformer seems to suddenly appear in the middle of a New York City street. When April and her friend, Andy, video their reaction to it and post it to YouTube, they become an overnight sensation. April names her statue Carl and soon finds out that there are Carls in cities all around the globe. Their mysterious appearance combined with April’s groundbreaking video thrusts the girl and her friend into the media spotlight.

So one wants to be forgotten, and April sees this sudden fame as a means to achieve a little lasting recognition. However, the intense scrutiny she’s subjected to changes the way she interacts with her friends and family, and the way they and the rest of the world views her. While she is struggling to learn what the Carl statues mean, others attempt to learn everything about her. She ends up torn between the person she wants to be and the person her public expects her to be.

The pervasive nature of social media is explored throughout this novel. April becomes an instant celebrity, and as a result, she is simultaneously adored and reviled. The ugly side of fame rears its ugly head when the fanatics come out of the woodwork. There will always be a group of people who adore and deify the person upon whom they focus their energies. Just like there will always be a group of vile human beings who don’t like their worldview tampered with and respond with vitriol and violence. All this is even more focused in the age of social media.

Hank Green explores the world we live in right now, pulling no punches with the pitfalls of social media and instant celebrities. People around the world are drawn to the drama on their phones, interacting electronically rather from person to person. While we seem more connected with all our means of communication, the human element and nuance are eliminated.

What happens in these moments just before panic sets in? Will April be able to handle being pulled in two drastically different directions? Will the mysterious origins and intentions of the Carl statues result in a global panic? Besides trying to determine what the statues mean, April also has to determine exactly who she is and who she wants to be. Living under the public microscope brings a series of hurdles that she will need to navigate in her attempt to define herself and her place in the world.

This is Hank Green’s debut novel, and I have not read a book that was so fun to read, and so eye-opening to our plight right now. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing explores humanity through the lens of Twitter, YouTube, and social media while attempting to cling to the last hopes of humanity. The unknown can draw us together if we let it. Or we can let it tear us apart. It’s up to us.

I loved this book. I cannot wait for his next book to come out. The humanity of the characters shines through on each page. I simultaneously pulled for and pulled against the main character, April. Some of her decisions seemed like the correct ones, while others seemed just bad. Humans are full of these opposing decisions and Green captured that along with all the gray area in between. Essentially, this is a book about us. Sometimes it’s pretty. Sometimes it’s ugly. It’s up to us to make it better.

Craig Bacon sometimes thinks Facebook and Twitter are the evils of mankind. They have so much potential, but end up being an abyss of time and energy.