This past Tuesday marked the release of one of my most favorite books that I have read this year — An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for months (I preordered it in February, before they even released the cover!) and I have been following its promotion (primarily via Vlogbrothers videos) eagerly waiting for it to come out. I even attended the Boston leg of Hank’s book tour on Wednesday. After all this anticipation, I had worried, just a little, that the book might not hold up to my expectations. Luckily enough, I was wrong, and I finished the book, cover to cover, in a little under four hours, after which I immediately sent my hot take text to my fiancée before starting to read the book again from the beginning.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is undoubtedly a work of fiction, though I think of it as a kind of metafiction, in the sense that it is, to use Green’s own words “a nonfiction book written by a fictional character.” The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of April May, a young woman in her twenties who discovers a statue on 23rd street in New York around 3am, and upon said discovery makes a video with a college friend that unexpectedly goes viral. Naming the statue Carl, April and her friend, Andy, later discover that the statue that they have dubbed Carl is actually one of 64 statues that have been scattered in cities throughout the world. The story unravels as a mystery, where April and her friends set out to discover how the Carls arrived and what their purpose is.
Although the novel is undoubtedly a thrilling mystery-adventure, (on the tour Hank called it “speculative fiction”) its format as a pseudo-memoir, and the fact that it also acts as a sort of treatise on fame and popularity in today’s culture, reminds me greatly of Francesca Ramsey’s Well, that Escalated Quickly, which is an actual nonfiction book about how someone’s viral video launched them in to fame. The difference, in April May’s case (other than being fictional) is that there are more mysteries, aliens, robots, and near-death experiences involved.
Reading this book, I felt that I got to know April at such an intimate level, that even when her actions were beyond the pale, and absolutely the opposite of what I would do, or even what I could do, I still fully understood why and how she did things. Rarely am I so immersed in a character’s mindset as I was in reading An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, which can often lead to my being doubtful of characters’ motivations or actions. And yet, here I was, identifying with a character that is in many ways so different from myself.
As I have gotten older I have generally been more interested in standalone novels than the multiple book series that I loved in my teenage years, but I can safely say that even with the book out of less than a week I am already craving a sequel since, although the book does feel complete in its own right, I know that there is so much more to be told in this story. The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger per say, more that I have so many questions and I wish to know how the heightened stakes of the last dozen chapters play out. While there is a clear-cut narrative arc going on, there are plenty of loose ends that are indicative of this being only part one in a sequence of at least two books (though if the sequel is anywhere near as good as the first, I don’t doubt that I’ll be begging for a third).
I have to say that what I liked best about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing was that it did its best to be representative and inclusive of all different types of identities. One of the key points of this book is cooperation, and how it is only by working together and incorporating people from all different backgrounds that the characters are able to achieve their goals. I particularly enjoyed the healthy dose of bi visibility via the narrative’s exploration not only of April’s love life, but also of how her fame and her sexuality interact in terms of how she presents herself in the media. I also appreciated that the book depicted a mixed race relationship as both completely normal and as an opportunity for an (albeit brief) conversation about how race affects them differently.
Overall, I highly recommend that if you haven’t gotten a copy already you should add An Absolutely Remarkable Thing to the top of your shopping/ library list.