ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Book Review: Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Updated on January 26, 2021
Laura335 profile image

I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.

Cover for "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing"


Hank Green's first novel.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing was published on September 25, 2018, the result of a five-year effort from debut novelist, Hank Green. I picked up this book because I’m a fan of Green’s vlogbrothers channel on YouTube. I’ve also read his brother, John’s, books and loved his last two.

Any advantage you can use to get exposure to your work is fair game in my book. However, I’m not out to compare his writing to his already successful brother’s.

It’s appropriate, though, that Green’s fame is largely responsible for the book debuting at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, since the book itself deals with the theme of how fame inspires success. While this was an advantage for the first time author, it takes actual writing talent to achieve true success in the writing world. While not a perfect story, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing proved to me that Green has that talent for clear, creative storytelling that can capture a reader’s interest, entertain, and educate, just as he does on YouTube.

“You can only do so much pretending before you become the thing you’re pretending to be.”

— Hank Green

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing plot synopsis

April May, a 23-year-old graphic design student, becomes famous overnight after vlogging and posting a video about a mysterious statue that has appeared in New York City. The statue, which she names Carl, is a 10-foot-tall transformer, one of 64 that appear in various cities that night. They also start leaving cryptic puzzles in places such as Wikipedia, and later, in the form of a dream that most of the population begins to have.

April’s fame grows as she gives interviews, makes book deals, and continues posting YouTube videos with her best friend, Andy, assistant Robin, a UC Berkeley graduate student named Miranda, and roommate/girlfriend, Maya, in order to try to figure out the origin and purpose of the Carls. As her fame grows, so does the mystery, tearing her between the people most important to her and the millions of followers who anticipate her next move.

“I don’t know why I’ve never felt like a totally worthwhile person. I just haven’t. It’s what drives me. It’s who I am.”

— Hank Green

Themes about fame and communication.

Hank Green pours a lot of his interests into this plot, from his love of music and science to the pressures of dealing with fame in this decade. Green’s famous voice comes through in how he chooses to tell his story, including history lessons, unique, yet identifiable, metaphors, and candid reflections on how both he and April make their living.

Did you ever want to know how much a viral YouTube video is worth to the poster? It’s in there. Want to know how studio news interviews work? You’ll get the details.

At the same time, there is a very fictional story at play here. This is not a play-by-play of Green’s rise to fame. April May is introduced as her own flawed person.

She’s also very self-aware of her vices. They come up frequently in the retelling of her story, from regret towards certain actions that she recants to the confession of her hunger for fame, even when she pretends not to care about it.

Fame today doesn’t come from talent or being “discovered.” Famous people just need to post a video of themselves being themselves, and the public decides if they want to see more of them, either to love or hate them. In April’s case, she seems to be at the right place at the right time and makes an effort to continue her exposure in various forms of media.

There is also the downside to fame: the haters. April has a rather thick skin which allows her to battle the numerous negative comments that the public relays in the comments section of all online articles and social media posts while pursuing her public investigation of the Carls. April learns, though, that popularity means drawing in those who both love and hate her. The fortune that she amasses in the process mirrors her worth in views rather than individual admirers.

There is also the sci-fi element to the story which competes with April’s personal story. Without giving too much away, the presence of the Carls raise the standard paranormal questions. Some believe them to be alien beings who have come to merely observe humans. Others believe they are out to obliterate them. Neither theory has any credibility.

The clues that the Carls hide are mini-science lessons, from where to find certain earthly elements that the Carls request to using computer language to unlock pass codes. These transformers have the ability to take both natural and man made items from Earth and twist them into means of communication.

There’s an Arrival feel to the story which ultimately leaves the reader, along with the world contained inside this book, with the ultimate question: But why are they here?

“Once life gets a certain amount of weird, more weird just doesn’t really matter.”

— Hank Green

A dark humor.

The tone of this story never veers too dark, despite the idea that these robots could be out to destroy humanity. The characters tend to keep things light and maintain their unique voices in this quirky world in which April lives before and during these events.

There are no real character arcs as much as realizations of certain actions. They learn from their mistakes but continue to make new ones, as people do in real life. An eclectic mix of pop culture references are dropped to both explain mundane details and contribute to the mystery elements of the plot.

Sci-fi can become too confusing when dealing with abstract concepts, but the narrative stays clear, even through the more intense scientific explanations without talking down to the most likely ignorant reader, a feat that I always find impressive. Still, this doesn’t feel like the entire story, just one piece of it. Don’t expect to have all questions answered by the end of the book, even some of the big ones.

The story also has to blend several genres together: mystery, action, thriller, science fiction, contemporary fiction, even LGBTQ fiction. Despite being written by a straight man, I heard a woman’s voice narrating the book as I was reading it, and he definitely did his research to make sure that she came across as an authentic bi woman without stereotyping or assuming.

We all want to be considered well-rounded individuals. April May embodies this in that respect, not an easy ball to juggle when there are already so many in the air.

“She pitched it as a wonderful moment to be alive, assuring us that the government was hard at work uncovering the mysteries of the Carls, and all of humanity would have to work together to solve the mysteries of the Dream. It was good. It was sudden for almost everyone, but not for me. It was this slow gradual feeling, like your dog dying a year after being diagnosed with cancer. I had a little bit come to terms with it. But still, then your dog dies, and your dig will never not be dead.”

— Hank Green

Flawed characters and unorthodox plotlines.

I think this book is very strong for a first novel. Green knows how to tell a story from years of telling stories in his videos. He also has a knack for language, but in creating a flawed character, he asks that you quickly dismiss April’s faults as the characters that she hurts most do.

Despite living with the guilt of her actions, the people she hurts remain loyal to her. Her punishment comes only from continuing to pursue this life that grows larger and larger as she delves deeper into the mystery of the Carls and the growth of her fame.

She also shrugs off the wealth that she accumulates and the comfort and freedom it gives her to acquire more and give her the time to study the Carls. However, she is usually the one doing the least amount of work. One of her main tasks is to sleep and explore the world that she and millions of others dream every night while others are editing her videos, creating websites for others exploring the dream to share tips and completed pieces of the puzzle, and managing the legalities of her self-branding.

It’s hard to believe that any of these shaky, real-life situations are not taken away from her as fast as they are given to her. She trusts Andy’s dad to draft the legal paperwork allowing a 50/50 split of all YouTube proceeds between she and his son. She puts the running of her company into the hands of a UC Berkley grad student who she barely knows. She lies to police and the president without any repercussions.

The first half of the book sets up all of these potential disasters only to have all of them work out in her favor so that the main conflict can be her only conflict: solving the mystery of the Carls and battling the political pundit who contradicts her viewpoints and leads a small team of people who set out to get in her way.

It’s also a very busy story, bouncing from one event to the next. It could have been longer to flesh out some of the more interesting elements, such as the dream puzzles. Instead, everything feels rushed in order to pack in everything that Green wants to say.

With the Carls being such a big part of the book, were they the thing we should have been focused on, arriving in order to teach us about ourselves, or were they just a vehicle for a cautionary tale about YouTube fame? I can honestly say that I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not sure if I understood its intention. It might be made more clear as I read others’ reactions, but reading should ultimately be a very personal experience, and if I need others to explain it to me, there must be a disconnect somewhere.

“What is reality except for the things that people universally experience the dame way? The Dream, in that sense, was very, very real.”

— Hank Green

A Youtube Q&A with author Hank Green

“You know how when you’re trying to get some stuff out of your car and there’s, like, one too many things to bring them all in in one trip? You keep trying to figure out how to hold something slightly put some stuff down and consolidate some bags and you think you’ve got everything, but then you look down and realize that the cat food or the soda from lunch or the picture frames are still sitting there and you’ve got no way to pick them up."

— Hank Green

My recommendation.

I went into this book with no expectations or knowledge as to what this book was about. All I knew was that Hank Green had written a work of fiction, and I wanted to read it. I'm glad I did. It was interesting and entertaining with compelling cliffhangers, gripping action, and a behind-the-curtain look at today's consumption of social media fame.

Hank Green's first book could have been a memoir about his own rise to Internet fame. It could have been a science book about one of his favorite topics. It could have been a collection of essays on his numerous interests. Ultimately, he chose to write a book of fiction featuring topics of which he’s very knowledgeable but still consisted of world building, working out puzzles, and writing from the perspective of a main character that little resembles him.

Green is always encouraging his viewers to challenge themselves in their chosen projects, and he obviously did with this story. That in itself is an absolutely remarkable thing.

“I was addicted to the attention and to the outrage and to the rush of being involved in something so huge,but more than any of that I was just addicted."

— Hank Green

What did you think of "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing"?

See results

Buy a copy of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing here!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Laura335 profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Smith 

      2 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Hi! Thanks for reading. If you're a Vlogbrothers fan, I would recommend this book, not because it's full of Easter eggs, but it deals with the kinds of themes that they talk about on their channel all the time. And yes, you do see Hank's humor pop up, but at the same time, you definitely hear a female voice narrating the story. There are also modern day pop culture references sprinkled throughout that help to set the story in today's world, and the sci-fi elements are really glossed over, which might disappoint some readers, but it was a relief to me because I can sometimes get lost when Hank is explaining scientific concepts on his channel.

    • thedinasoaur profile image

      Dina AH 

      2 years ago from United States

      I have not read this book yet, which is very strange to me because I am a huge Vlogbrothers fan. I think part of my hesitation is that the sci-fi aspect of the story seems rather intimidating. I do like how you clarify this in your hub here. It makes me happy to learn that Hank manages to blend genres to avoid alienating readers. I also did not know that the main character of this novel is on the LGBT+ spectrum. I am going to try to get my hands on a copy of this book soon. PS: one of John Green's hallmarks as a writer is that he has a lovely sense of humor that manifests in his work. Did you see Hank's humor also in this novel or was it mostly serious in its tone?

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      This sounds like a very interesting book. I've not read this, but your article has me interested. =)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)