Series: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing #1
Published by Hachette Australia on September 25, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Science Fiction
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The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship--like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor--April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world--everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires--and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.
Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
I have been a long-time viewer of Hank Green and the vlogbrothers, along with the other shows that Hank has hosted, including SciShow and Crash Course, and I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for Hank’s debut novel. I have to say that when a copy showed up on my doorstep (thanks to the lovely people at Hachette), I lost a lot of my enthusiasm… mostly because the main character’s name is April May. It took another 3 weeks for me to pick it up, and I ended up alternating between the physical copy and the audiobook, which I purchased myself.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing combines science fiction with Hank Green’s own experience with social media/internet fame, culminating into a quirky and mysterious story. The novel begins when our protagonist and narrator, April May, stumbles upon a 10-feet tall metal, Transformer-like sculpture at 3am in the middle of Manhattan. As a graduate from a design school, and an appreciator of fine arts, she marvels at the beauty of the sculpture, which she names ‘Carl’, and calls her best friend Andy out to create a video of the sculpture with her. When April wakes up the next afternoon, the video has gone viral and she finds out that many other Carls have mysteriously appeared in cities around the world at roughly the same time that she discovered New York Carl. As the entire world collectively tries to figure out where these Carls have come from and what their mission is, April and her friends find themselves at the forefront of it all, turning her into an internet sensation and changing her life forever.
I honestly wasn’t sure that this book was for me. Although I’m a huge contemporary reader, this kind of contemporary plot has never appealed to me and I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy the sci-fi aspect of it. I’m very glad that I gave it a chance though, because I found that I highly enjoyed the plot… for the most part. I thought the story concept was really intriguing and I kept reading to find out more about the Carls. There were different mysteries and puzzles built into the plot, particularly in the first half, which kept me engaged and wanting to know more. I didn’t even really mind the parts in between where the novel followed April trying to manage her rising celebrity and stardom, and I especially loved seeing the friendships develop throughout the book. Where the novel fell flat for me was the last quarter of it. I thought the pacing of the story was a bit one-note and I never really felt much tension, even during the climax of the plot, which left me a bit unsatisfied. There was also a pretty large cliffhanger at the end, and it felt quite unresolved. I guess we’ll all have to pick up the sequel to figure out what anything in this book meant…
Part of the reason why I felt a bit unsatisfied with the plot and the pacing was because April’s character was so chill and calm. Even in situations where a regular person should’ve been panicking, she was kind of unfazed or made jokes about the situation, which defused a lot of the tension. While this was great for some scenes, there were other scenes where I just needed the intensity and action, and it was ultimately just unsatisfying. April’s character wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I also wasn’t as annoyed by her and her narration as I thought I would be. I definitely don’t think that she’s a super likeable character, but she did show her vulnerable side at times, which made her more relatable to me, especially since I have nothing in common with her character. Her tone and narration took me a little while to get used to but I could also hear her in Hank Green’s voice.
I enjoyed the side characters in the book and I particularly loved Robin (April’s personal assistant) and Maya. They were definitely the voices of reason in this book, and really balanced out April’s impulsiveness and bad decisions. I wish we’d gotten to see a lot more of the side characters in this book, because they were definitely interesting and unique. I would love to see more of who they are outside of them being just April’s friends.
I purchased the audiobook so that I could listen to it on my drive to and from work, and while it’s not one of my favourite audiobook performances, I did find that the narrator kept me engaged in the story. I think she made a very good April and brought her character to life in a way that transformed the story for me. However, I found that the narrator couldn’t really do different voices and most of the characters, both male and female, sounded the same to me. It was hard to differentiate between them when there was a lot of dialogue, and they all just became April for me. Hank Green does a little bit of the narration in the audiobook, which was a nice treat, but I found his section to be kind of boring and I preferred the ‘main’ narrator.
Despite An Absolutely Remarkable Thing not being the kind of book I would usually gravitate towards, I enjoyed the reading experience and the plot. It had an original concept and was delivered in an interesting and engaging manner. While the prose wasn’t the most sophisticated, I thought it was still really well-written and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel so that I can have some answers to the lingering questions from this book!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a review copy of the book.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is available at all Australian retailers for RRP$29.99.