An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

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I’ve previously reviewed several of John Green’s books, including Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, and Turtles All the Way Down. Last fall, his younger brother Hank Green released his debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

April May is a 23-year-old graphic designer living in New York City, working a dead-end job at a startup and struggling to pay her student loans. Late one night on her way home, she stumbles across a sculpture in the middle of the sidewalk. Intrigued by the statue, April names him Carl and she and her best friend Andy make a YouTube video introducing it. The video quickly becomes viral as people discover dozens of other Carls in cities around the world. April is drawn into the world of viral fame and caught in between the theories as people argue what the purpose of the Carls are. Along the way, she makes new friends and enemies.

At first, I thought this novel would mostly focus on what being a viral star entails. And parts of it do. April experiences the thrill of people recognizing her and becomes addicted to the attention she is getting, leveraging social media to keep her image relevant. As April’s first person narrative admits, “I like getting paid, I like the attention, and I was worried about it ending.” (p. 71). April’s experience portrays how Internet platforms enable people to become “accidentally” famous, and how the spotlight is something that people can crave.

There’s an unexpected science fiction angle to the story. As the novel progresses, people start to wonder whether the Carls might not be from this planet. The sequence to solve involves chemical elements and a virtual reality-like “dream” that people begin having. These are important parts of the plot, but proved to be difficult to understand sometimes. This could depend on what your interests are, as I’m definitely more of a words and literature person versus science and coding.

This being Hank Green’s very first book, his writing style was interesting to observe. He chose to write from the perspective of a female twenty-something, something I’ve found to be challenging for authors. The fact that he included some supernatural elements implies that he wants to differ himself from his older brother’s books. Overall, I felt like the plot was decent, but needed some more character development within its 300+ pages. April’s first person narrative allows plenty of development for her character, but I would have liked to see more of April’s ex-girlfriend Maya, and April’s new love interest Miranda.

I would recommend this novel for its unexpected story, but it falls short of focusing on supporting characters.

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The Assistants

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The assistant trope is not a new one, with television shows such as The Office and popular movies such as Set It Up using them as plot points. As evidenced by its title, The Assistants by Camille Perri is a novel that utilizes this trope, but also throws in a very current issue- student loans.

Tina Fontana is the 30-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the high-powered CEO of Titan Corporation in New York City. For the past six years, she’s immersed herself in her job of scheduling Robert’s meetings, business travel and other excursions. When a discrepancy in the expense reporting causes a check for thousands of dollars to land on her desk, she debates whether to use it to pay off her student loans. What follows is a series of adventures that leads to major changes in both Tina’s professional and personal life.

Having worked in an office myself, I could relate to the actions of scheduling, expense reporting, and other similar tasks. The fact that Tina has been in the same position for most of her twenties reflects on how difficult it can be to climb the ladder to success, or how some people can be content staying where they are. 

What made the plot unique was its take on student loans. According to Forbes, the average college graduate owes over $28,000. Instead of using the money for material items, Tina pays off her student loans, and is overwhelmed by the feeling of freedom. I’m not saying that this action is right since she did commit fraud, but the events that follow introduce the interesting concept of a nonprofit focused on helping people pay off their student loans. As someone who owes a good amount, I couldn’t help but wonder what the feeling of having no debt is like. 

The Assistants is a nice, quick read that explores the world of office assistants, student loan debt and life in the big city.

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