An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I spent most of Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing wanting to have Stern Words with the protagonist.

Maybe that’s because I’m 44 and April May is 23. Maybe it’s because April May made bad decisions that Past Me was quite good at making and hello I didn’t really need that kind of introspection in The Year Of Oh God Seriously 2020. Especially in 2020. Especially in June of 2020.

Maybe it’s because the world deserved better than what April May was able to deliver. Maybe it’s because the world right now deserves better than any one human being is able to deliver.

There’s also a part of me as a UX Designer that relates a little more closely with April May and the way that when we lock onto something fascinating it can easily become all-encompassing in our lives and shape who we are just as much as we shape what it is. The title is completely true and the driver of the book: the Carls are an absolutely remarkable thing. They’re the kind of thing that frankly would terrify the shit out of me and I would have definitely not gone down April May’s path because April May’s path is scary. (Some of where April May and I disagree definitely comes from “April May is an extrovert and anne gibson is much more willing to hide from all of humanity”.)

Or maybe it’s because this book doesn’t work at all if the protagonist isn’t deeply flawed.

But here’s the thing: in most cases, a protagonist that annoys the piss out of me is exactly the kind of thing that makes me put a book down and move on to the next book, and that didn’t happen here. Hank wrote real people who make real decisions and some of those decisions are really bad, and, most importantly, There Are Consequences.

And to that I give Hank profound credit. His characters are real. They all make mistakes. Some of them acknowledge those mistakes in the book. Some of them don’t. And the world is real, with all its warts and fights and distrust and fear and horribleness.

In that way, it reminds me a bit of Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex series. Hank’s book is much more science fiction than magical realism, and Ferrett’s book is much more of an adult voice than Hank’s (mostly because Hank’s protagonist is a 23-year-old marketer and Ferrett’s is an adult bureaucrat). In both, though, the protagonist is riddled with bad mistakes compounding bad mistakes, and it’s only through their overall hope in humanity and their closest friends that they muddle through.

In tone, this is Young Adult For Actual Adults, which I love. In structure, it’s an autobiography written by a much wiser version of April May. It ends on a cliffhanger, so be prepared to get the next one in the series even if you want to have Stern Words with April May.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

I probably should have known Swordheart by T. Kingfisher was the beginning of a trilogy when the bird slipped through a plot hole there at the end and didn’t amount to anything. Screaming birds generally aren’t put in the plot for no reason and this bird is way too much a Chekhov’s Bird to just be sitting there.

Anyway, this book is fantastic, and I’m now hungry for the next two.

This book is the story of Sarkis, a man whose spirit has been placed in a sword, and Halla, a 36 year old widow who was planning to kill herself with the sword until a warrior appareted into her bedroom when she tried to do the deed.

And then from there it gets weird.

It gets weird in the ways of the Clockwork Boys stories, with strange creatures on a road that disappears and reappears, bandits, murderers, ruthless priests, not-ruthless lawyer priests, a gnoll that drives the ox, an ox named Prettyfoot, hands-down the nastiest aunt I’ve found in a book in quite some time, and a clammy-handed man who nobody should marry.

And then somehow everything works out and the people who need to be dead are dead and the people who you were kind of hoping would be dead are banged up at least, and the people who should be in love are in love.

I’m pretty sure that although Ursula Vernon insists she writes “fluffy romance” on Twitter that this doesn’t qualify as “fluffy” unless you ask Halla what she thinks of her own weight. But romance it is, and relatable romance so much as it can be without traitorous relatives and a ensorcelled sword.

This is good, in short. Read it.

Firefly: The Sting by Delilah S. Dawson

Delilah Dawson is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. The plot of Firefly: The Sting (a graphic novel that is set in the Firefly universe) is complex, and lots of characters “take the lead” in this ensemble story of the women of Firefly. The premise (that Saffron had been hiding on board Serenity, and thus able to cause a full set of hijinx) felt a little beyond what the character (to me) is capable of, but everything after that was true-to-character and strong.

Props to the many artists, colorers, and letterers involved, especially for the interstitial art between chapters. It was impressive and intriguing.

I hope that there are more stories like this coming.

Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump: Sara’s Scribbles collections by Sarah Andersen

I usually try to read books in order, even if I don’t have to, but I honestly didn’t know that Herding Cats: A Sara’s Scribbles collection by Sarah Andersen was the third book in a series when I picked it up.

And it was awesome.

So Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump (books 1 and 2 respectively) went on my Christmas list, and I was thrilled to get them both.

Adulthood is a Myth is Sarah’s college-years book, as at the end the protagonist graduates, but it doesn’t concentrate on college and it isn’t a story-based comic. Sarah’s scribbles are definitely comics of the one-shot variety. Still, themes around social anxiety, introversion, figuring out how to get things done and grow up all develop through the book.

Reading this is like “OMG I’M IN THIS! OMG MY FRIENDS ARE IN THIS! EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS! wait is she spying on me?”

Big Mushy Happy Lump is post-graduation, but like most of us, the protagonist didn’t suddenly figure out adulthood just because she’s not in college anymore.

Like Herding Cats, this book is mostly comic strips, with an illustrated section about Sarah at the back. The protagonist is still an introvert, still socially anxious, but we see more of her with her beau, more of her interacting with people she’s not sure how to deal with, and we start to see a kitty show up. In the back half, Sarah teaches herself to become more open to new opportunities, and we learn about the kitten she borrowed from her mom for a month. (She also steals lots of sweaters throughout the book.)

Both of these books are quick reads; I covered them in a half hour. They’re also delightful stick-them-on-the-coffee-table-and-flip-through-them-regularly books. As one-shot comic strips go, Sarah Andersen brings me joy.

The Gospel of Carol Vol 1: Radical Teen Study Edition by John S. Troutman

The Gospel of Carol is not the book you read if you’re looking for a Church’s preferred edition of the Bible. It’s the book you read if you’re looking for a tired-of-the-Churches’-patriarchy-bullshit version of the Bible. It’s the book you read if you want to imagine that the aprocryphal gospels and books of the Bible might have had some interesting things to say. It’s the book you read if the idea that Jesus was one of a set of triplets, his brother Thomas was mute, and his sister Carol was the one with the T1 line of power and mystery coming straight from Heaven plugged into her brain makes you go “huh, how would that go down exactly?”.

It’s the kind of book you read if you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like to know to the second how long it was until the time of your death on the cross.

At the same time, it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously — Carol not only wanders the earth looking for answers, but also annoys the Greek gods, kicks Lucifer out of heaven for waking her up too early, turns water into wine pretty much every chance she gets, and as a child gets revenge on a town by making everyone pee themselves. Constantly.

The chapter introductions make it clear how much research Troutman did to put together this view of the Son/Daughter of God, including referencing which apocryphal books he read and when he deviated from source material altogether. This isn’t someone’s half-dreamed Bible fanfic tossed together in a Sunday afternoon, this is someone’s well-thought-out, researched, structured, and analyzed Bible fanfic spanning sources from pop-culture references to Dante’s inferno to the canonical four gospels to the Infancy Gospel of James.

The art is crisp and clear and, while occasionally it can be confusing which woman with shiny hair is which, the distinctiveness of the characters’ voices, coupled with the visual cues and context clues, make this black-and-white graphic novel both readable and enjoyable.

The character of Carol grew out of Troutman’s Lit Brick series of comics, where she was initially named She-Jesus and came in as a substitute for any time a piece of literature was referencing her brother. The paperback edition includes a number of Kickstarter shorts available only in the book, a sampling of the Lit Brick comics that launched Carol as a character, as well as a solid and fantastic essay by Wednesday Burns-White “If Veggies Tire You, What Would Triplets Do? Carol of Nazareth’s Position Within Christian Mass Media”. Burns-White looks at the Christian mass-media influences on 1990s kids in North America and how various shows from Mister Rogers to Veggie Tales and beyond, weaving together how our generation is comfortable both consuming media and talking back to it, and how Troutman’s Gospel of Carol does both.

All in all, definitely one I’m glad I bought.