An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (2018) by Hank Green

I’m not really sure how I ended up reading this. I am a huge fan of Crash Course but I’ve never followed anything else they’ve done and I’ve always had zero intention of reading John’s novels. But somehow, this book showed up on my fiction pile. I must have added it to my list one day due to a review or something and then, one gift giving day, it appeared. I promptly forgot about it and one day it was next in the pile. I mention this because I don’t think I’m the target audience.

The very best thing about this book is how real all the online stuff feels. It’s very clear Hank knows his shit, and from experience. Now, that’s obvious if you know anything about the Green brothers, but it’s still extremely evident in the writing. I’ve read some novels recently which featured the internet in very mild amounts and it was embarrassing how the famous author completely didn’t understand how it works. Hank understands the internet on a social level better than the vast majority of people. Sure, at least one of his guesses about tech didn’t quite pan out (remember Facebook Live?) but all of the social aspects of the internet and most of the tech aspects feel accurate and real and clearly come form a deep understanding.

And the plot is pretty good, to be honest. I didn’t know where it was going and it seems like a relatively creative spin on [redacted].

My biggest complaint is the dialogue, particularly between April and Maya (and, briefly, between April and Miranda). I am a middle-aged man. I have no idea how young 20-something lesbians and bi women talk. But I feel pretty strongly they don’t talk like this. We all have nitpicks we focus on in writing. One of mine is awkward dialogue that does not feel authentic. And, well, there’s a lot that in this novel, particularly, as I said, among the bi/lesbian women. Too often I was aware I was reading a man, too often I was aware I was reading a man who was trying really hard to not sound like a man.

This is hardly the first novel to play around with how the words on the page are presented. I have no idea which novel was the first one to include emails, or the first to include tweets but at this point it’s probably a bit of a cliche. How do you tell this story without them? Well, you don’t, so this criticism is unfair.
The bigger issue is at the end when [redacted]. I don’t really know how that works. Is the book a Google Doc?

I turned the page, I laughed occasionally, I did eventually sort of care about the fate of this woman I really didn’t like. So it mostly works. But it does really feel like a debut, at least in terms of the dialogue. And I definitely didn’t like it enough to bother reading the sequel. (Sequels?)


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