Author Hank Green and singer Tessa Violet, two who have found fame on YouTube, discuss “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” in a video on the Tessa Violet channel.
I do not remember why or how I stumbled into the world of the Green brothers, although I’m sure it was by accident on YouTube.
Hank Green and John Green began exchanging public video chats as the Vlogbrothers more than a decade ago. John Green is a well-establish author of young adult novels, although until I read and enjoyed “Turtles All the Way Down” recently, I had not experienced any of his fiction (then again, I’m rather remote from the target audience for a young adult author, I suppose).
Anyway, I probably read that book simply because I was getting into the habit of viewing Vlogbrothers videos, and they did chat about it. The VlogBro news in fall of 2018 was that the younger brother, Hank, was joining the ranks of published authors, with the release of his first novel, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.”
And a few days ago, I finished reading that book. One of my daughters read it at the same time, and pronounced it “weird,” but still a book she would recommend. I agree on the “recommend,” and although I think it’s a bit unusual, I’m not so sure about the weird part. In fact, it was one of my favorite recent reads.
This is not going to be a formal book review, other than to state that I enjoyed the book. I also don’t plan to give away too many spoilers, so if you have not read the book and might, you’ll probably be safe to read this post. Anyway, the book is about a graphic artist named April May who late one night in New York City discovers what she considers to be a cool giant sculpture that has suddenly appeared. Despite it being the wee hours of the morning, she phones a friend, a YouTuber, and they shoot a quick video before the 10-foot figure, which she dubs “Carl.”
Although April does not know this, Carls have appeared in cities all over the world at the same time. And because she encountered it and posted a YouTube video first, April May stars in an instantly viral video that makes her suddenly famous. It turns out (I do not think this counts as a spoiler, it’s too obvious anyway) that the Carls are aliens, not art. (Or maybe they are alien art, but they are not terrestrial.)
While the book is partly a science fiction mystery novel, one of the things I most enjoy about it is the ruminations about the nature of fame in the internet age, as well as a playful romp through nerd pop culture. On the later, one of the hints the Carls drop as to their needs is by changing the Wikipedia entry for “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the Queen song.
Hank, you should have included “Sorry, I’m Not Sorry” somewhere in the book, too.
Anyway, cheesy pop references aside, April finds herself both denying the attraction of fame and being seduced by it, to the point of making sometimes painfully awful personal choices.
Hank Green is a celebrity in his own right, and an interesting thread in the novel is his rumination on how fame is achieved, what it means and what it does. For example, April May struggles to deal with the reality that millions of people who don’t know her strongly love or hate her, which is not the normal human condition.
Hank, in the person of April, describes five tiers of fame:
- Popularity—You are popular in a place. A big deal at your high school or neighborhood.
- Notoriety—You are well known—mayor of a medium-sized city or local meteorologist. You are one of the million or so people with a Wikipedia page.
- Working-Class Fame—People distributed around the world know you. A stranger may approach you in a store. You’re a musician, athlete, etc. You still have to work, but fame is your job.
- True Fame—So many people know you that it’s a problem. If you date someone, you may read about it in a magazine. You have no money woes, but have a gate and intercom on your driveway.
- Divinity—Everyone on the planet knows you. You started a nation or religion. You are not alive.
In a “Pillow Talk” video with YouTube singer Tessa Violet, Hank Green and she discuss the nature of fame as described in the novel:
The book also includes a rather realistic backlash against April, her friends and the Carls. Fear, which may not be entirely unfounded, motivates a lot of people.
The story started off feeling kind of “normal,” that is, it was just a fun adventure, “The Princess Diaries” with older characters and an alien robot. But it got a bit more eerie as it went on, which I think was both deliberate and rather well done. I’m proud to say I did anticipate a few of the twists before they were overt in the book—but, without going into spoilers, can’t really say which ones. And some did catch me by surprise.
Anyway, I’m on to my next book already (“Dead Wake” by Erik Larson), but I hope more of my friends and family will read “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.” I want others to talk with about this book.
I don’t know you, Hank Green, but I am a fan of your writing (as well as you on YouTube). I enjoyed your first novel, and I am wondering where the story goes from here.
This is a vision of Carl created by comic book artist Rosemary Valero-OConnell, and was displayed on Twitter by Hank Green as a depiction he likes. If you want to see the artist’s work, her site is http://www.hirosemary.com/