An Absolutely Remarkable Thing // Not My Cup of Tea, But Maybe Yours?

Coming up on the 2020 election, I’ll be including an action that you can take to make a difference at the top of every post. Today, I encourage all eligible voters (U.S. citizens age 18 or older) to register to vote (preferably by mail if your state allows it). Being registered and ready to vote on November 3 is the biggest difference you can make, especially if you live in a swing state! Also, checking your voter registration status is always good practice, as states sometimes de-register you if you haven’t voted in a while or if they think you’ve moved away.

I don’t think I would have finished this book if I’d gotten off the waitlist for just about anything at the library, and if it wasn’t written by Hank Green. Before I start, I love Hank Green’s videos. Crash Course and SciShow got me through AP Biology junior year. But he is absolutely, absolutely, not my favorite novelist.

Basically, the book centers on a 20-something New York-transplant named April May (which is, possibly, the most YouTube-ready name a parent could ever give their child) who discovers a strange giant sculpture which she calls Carl. The next day, the Carls are everywhere, and April turns into an internet sensation overnight.

Honestly, the plot was interesting, but April May was just so, so cringey that it ruined the entire book for me. I don’t know if this is what Hank Green thinks that twenty-something girls are like, but if it is… ugh. I’d rather take his brother’s pretentious teens any day. April was written like a 14-year-old whose parents have just let her start using the internet. From her overuse of CAPITALIZATION and the word AWESOME and generally speaking like she was constantly typing a comment on YouTube in 2013, she just annoyed me so much that it almost trumped the intrigue of the Carls. While Green attempted to paint April as a symbol of humanity and hope, I felt like the book just centered on an egotistical Instagram influencer to the point that the entire book can be summarized by this actual quote: “I wanted my name on that goddamn Wikipedia page!”

At the same time, when you’re reading this, you can tell that Hank Green is not an awful writer. In fact, he’s pretty good, and (in between April’s rabid capitalization habit) he offers several very interesting insights on fame, fine art, and the fickle nature of today’s sound-byte news (yes, I did want to alliterate there).

Some of the more astute observations I found:

“If you’re wondering what the difference is, well, fine art is like art that exists for its own sake. The thing that fine art does is itself. Design is art that does something else. It’s more like visual engineering.”
“Reasoned, caring conversations that considered the complexity of other perspectives didn’t get views. Rants did. Outrage did. Simplicity did. So, simple, outraged rants is what I gave people.”
“You can only do so much pretending before you become the thing you’re pretending to be.”

I very easily would have loved this book if the above had simply been more of the novel. Green has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the subject matter of this book, no doubt influenced by his own status as a world-famous YouTuber, and his thoughts are definitely worth hearing. Just… maybe not in the form of this novel. I would be so interested in reading an autobiography, or even a book of essays, from one or both Green brothers. It appears, however, that their novels just aren’t my thing.

It’s very clear to me that this book could have been much, much better with an overhaul and a bit more editing. The underlying storyline is not bad, but the themes–fame, the Internet, and identity–just stuck out like a sore thumb being forced down your throat. I really think that if Green had rewritten this book a couple more times it would have turned out much, much better, and would have turned into a thought-provoking mediation on social media and fame. Or, better yet, if Green had just put these themes into his own autobiography? It probably would’ve read much better. But as it stands, this book was pretty hard to get through. Even with the cliffhanger ending (which, by the way, just annoyed me even more), I won’t be reading the rest of the series. Hank Green is probably better off sticking to his excellent nerdy science videos until he gets some more practice, and possibly interacts with more young women.

2/5 Wagging Tails


This review is part of my Quarantine Reads series, which explores the various books I’ve been reading to keep myself occupied this quarantine. You can also see all of my quarantine reads, ranked.

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