Review – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green


An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
by Hank Green

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 25, 2018

Publisher: Dutton

Synopsis: 

The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship–like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor–April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world–everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires–and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

rating

four

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is seriously… remarkable. This book was ridiculously fun and I got through it in a day. It’s one of those books where you’re ready for a sequel the moment you finish it.

Let me start with the negative; this was a debut novel and, of course, has some flaws. For starters, holy heavy-handed delivery of the moral, Batman. This book is not subtle in how it deals with the concepts of xenophobia, partisanship, and extremism. These themes were woven pretty seamlessly into the narrative itself, and they weren’t helped by the main character monologuing  about them straight to the reader. Hank Green, please realize that your audience can get your message loud and clear without you beating them over the head with it.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is also heavily imbued with modern “internet culture,” and while it was fun, I do think it will suffer for it and feel very dated not terribly far into the future. I think readers 15 years from now will pick this up and have the same general type of reaction that I had to Ready Player One, which was more or less “Good Lord, I get it, you like the 80’s, dude. Enough.”

That being said, I loved this book. The protagonist, April May, was quirky and intensely likable, despite being kind of a hot mess. (Side rant: I saw another reviewer on GoodReads label her a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. PSA: this is a very specific term; can people please stop slapping that label on any quirky female character they happen to dislike? A crucial part of the MPDG definition is that the character exists solely to inspire the broody, male MC to find a new appreciation for life. You can’t label a main character whose only romantic relationships in the narrative are with other women a MPDG. It doesn’t fit.)

April is 23 years old and a recent college graduate at the start of the story. She is thrown into the spotlight accidentally and isn’t really equipped to deal with it. While the specifics of her situation are extraordinary, I feel like a lot of younger Millennials and older Gen Z kids will relate to her. April’s struggles mirror the way a lot of us feel about adulthood in general.

I also really liked the way Green used April’s character to tackle the issue of biphobia, which is something rarely addressed in fiction; more often than not, it is simply lumped in with homophobia if it’s directly addressed at all. But the fact is that biphobia often manifests in different ways than homophobia does in real life, and it was refreshing to see a writer acknowledge that.

While it’s awesome to see a novel tackle important social issues, it’s also important that they’re woven into an interesting story, and Hank Green definitely delivers on that front. The novel felt very well-paced, and the mystery surrounding the “Carls” was really engaging and hinges on interesting puzzles and attention to detail. April’s emotional journey and struggle to maintain a sense of identity in the face of crafting a public persona were executed really well, and April came across as flawed and stumbling without ever being alienating. Such a strong debut has me dying to see what Hank Green writes next.

“Even on this most terrible days, even when the worst of us are all we can think of, I am proud to be a human.” 

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Thank you for reading! Have you read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Have you read any debut novels that really surprised you? Let’s discuss!
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Review – The Rule of One, by Ashley Saunders & Leslie Saunders

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The Rule of One by Ashley Saunders & Leslie Saunders

Genre: YA, Dystopia

Length: 258 Pages

Release date: October 1, 2018

Publisher: Skyscrape

Synopsis: 

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all.

In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail. But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins. Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives.

Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to discover just how far they’ll go in order to stay alive, Ava and Mira rush headlong into a terrifying unknown.

rating

fourI received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.

I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this book: identical twin sisters written by identical twin sisters. Ava and Mira are closer than most twins are, though not entirely by choice. The one child rule in this dystopian, near-future America means that they take turns going out into the world each day, and their struggle to maintain the facade of being a single person requires that they keep each other informed about every detail of their lives.

The lack of an ability to obtain a sense of individuality takes a toll on each of them, and the mixture of love and resentment between the sisters was a highlight of the novel. What must it be like when the person you love the most is also the reason you’re unable to live a full live, the reason you’re in constant danger? The Saunders sisters explore that ambivalence in this novel. On a similar note, I loved that this was a YA dystopian novel with no romance or (God forbid) a love triangle shoe-horned in for no discernible reason. The primary relationship in this book was between two sisters, which I found really refreshing.

That being said, some of the plot twists felt a bit too predictable, though maybe this is a product of reading a young adult novel as an adult. A lot of YA novels feel like they have the ability to appeal to a broader audience, but this one felt very YA. Teenagers will probably find this super compelling; older readers who have read more than a few dystopian novels will recognize the tropes and perhaps wish for something a bit more original.

The Rule of One was good for what it was: a novel that will hold a lot of appeal for teens. It was fast-paced with just enough twists to keep the reader engaged. I loved the concept of identical twins living as one person by necessity and the emotional consequences of that. The parts of the novel that addressed this issue were very strong, but I do wish there was more time devoted to it. Although it looks like there will be a book two; perhaps there will be more time to reflect on this in the second installment.

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Review – One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

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One of Us Is Lying 
by Karen M. McManus

Genre: YA, Mystery

Length: 361 Pages

Release date: May 30, 2017

Blurb via GoodReads: 

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

ratingfour

One of Us Is Lying is cheesy, tropey, and immensely fun. The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars description feels seriously apt, and you’ll want to pop a bowl of popcorn to watch this story unfold.

The heavy use of tropes can be a huge pitfall for a novel, but it’s part of the appeal here. The novel seems self-aware about this and characters stop just short of breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at it, particularly Simon, who refers to himself as the “omniscient narrator.”

“She’s a princess and you’re a jock,” he says. He thrusts his chin toward Bronwyn, then at Nate. “And you’re a brain. And you’re a criminal. You’re all walking teen-movie stereotypes.”

McManus makes some effort to play with these character archetypes in unexpected ways. While none of these developments are terribly shocking as they unfold, there is a certain fun in having your suspicions gradually confirmed, and I won’t spoil them here.

One thing I particularly liked was what McManus did with what could have been a typical disastrous YA romance. Brownyn, the Ivy league-bound good girl, gets paired up with Nate, the criminal. Good girl / bad boy pairings in YA are so often seriously problematic, with an insecure girl mooning over a boy that treats her like garbage and the whole thing being held up as the height of romance. Nate and Brownyn seem to have genuine chemistry and affection, built upon years of growing up together, and while Nate isn’t perfect, his flaws come from an understandable place and are paired with a genuine desire and willingness to improve.

This novel was fast-paced, fun, and weirdly cute for a story that starts out with a mysterious death. One of Us Is Lying is a lighthearted, simple book sure to get you out of a reading slump.

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Strange the Dreamer – Review

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

four
Lazlo Strange is a foundling with no family, a junior librarian, but most of all, a dreamer. He believes in magic and ghosts, and that every fairy tale has a grain of truth. His greatest obsession is the lost city of Weep, cut off from the rest of the word 200 years ago. Until now.

What mysterious problem has caused the people of Weep to search for outside help? And how will Lazlo, junior librarian with a dream, convince them to let him come along?

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I adored this book. I think the only thing that keeps me from giving it a solid 5 stars is that certain plot elements felt a bit more predictable than I’d like, but the story was so much fun that it made it difficult to mind.

Strange the Dreamer deals with a lot of dark topics (death, child abuse, and rape to name a few), but Taylor’s writing style is so lovely and the world she has built so captivating that the overall experience of reading this book never feels overly gloomy. There is always just enough light and hope to drown out the darkness.

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The characters are one of this story’s biggest strengths. Everything about Lazlo is endearing, and his obsession with Weep is contagious. Sarai’s helplessness and insecurity are heartwrenching, and I spent most of the story filled with a sense of protectiveness for her. The secondary characters feel fleshed-out enough to be interesting; Taylor has given enough thought to backgrounds for antagonists that they ring true. They feel like people doing what they feel they need to do, not one-dimensional villains who are evil for the sake of evil. That level of nuance lends so much authenticity to the story.

This book was beautiful. Any fan of fantasy who hasn’t read it yet is missing out on a treat.

The sequel, The Muse of Nightmares, is set to be released October 2018.

Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts on this book in the comments.