Ask any new author: It’s damn hard to break out of the literary bubble — that space where countless debuts are hyped and extolled over months, only to lose steam the moment they land on the shelves. But then there are the select few writers who arrive with that all-important competitive edge: a built-in audience.
Like, say, Hank Green. Together with his brother — and best-selling author — John Green (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars), he’s amassed a following of millions via Vlogbrothers, the YouTube channel that’s evolved into a topical, philanthropic, sublimely nerdy social-media empire. Hank has turned to fiction writing for his latest venture, following in his sibling’s footsteps.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing follows April May, a young queer woman launched into internet celebrity. One night, she and her friend Andy post a silly news report on the arrival of a mysterious sculpture in the heart of Manhattan; as these statues pop up in dozens of major global cities, the video goes viral. April, whose accessible persona captures the world, is an analog of her author: When not steeped in Manic Pixie clichés, her overbearing narration reads like Green messily grappling with his own fame. (“It was so easy to get people to follow me, and in the end, that’s what I wanted.”)
Green spins a fine speculative yarn — even if he bows out with an unduly cheap, sequel-staging cliff-hanger — but the writing is lacking. The political parallels are so blunted here, they couldn’t cut through butter, and the dialogue verges on ghastly: By page 4, the title is already spoken aloud with all-caps emphasis. There are hokey lines like “You’re a digital girl, April, in a digital world.” And despite the novel being pitched as adult-fiction, heroes banter with the stilted quippiness of sloppy YA — the clearest argument for why comparisons to John Green do this novel no favors. Sure, Remarkable Thing has robots and aliens to spare — but the actual people need an upgrade. C