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.