A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a science-fiction story by Hank Green, the driving force along with his brother John of several popular science and "nerd-power" YouTube channels. With protagonist April in her early 20s, it's not marketed strictly at teens, but there's a lot of appeal here. April's just out of college and starting out in New York City, which she loves, and she becomes an internationally famous social media star practically overnight. The book asks a lot of questions about the power of that kind of celebrity, and about the ways in which social media divides and unites people. April identifies as bisexual and briefly addresses sexual preference once or twice. She's currently in a same-sex relationship that mentions some kissing and having sex without any detailed descriptions. Rare violence includes April in peril from attempted murder by shooting, and a direct but non-gory description of someone trapped in a burning building, a roof beam hitting the skull, and burning skin. Strong language is also rare but includes "f--k," "s--t," and "d--k" used in calling names. Other strong themes offering food for thought are the power of celebrity, fear of the unknown, and how we can handle experiences, especially negative ones, in a positive way.
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What's the story?
AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING happens late one night as 22-year-old April makes her way home from her crummy job at a New York startup company. She notices a giant sculpture of what looks like a Transformer on the street near her apartment. How or when the sculpture got there is a complete mystery. Andy and April record and upload a video of April's first up-close look at the sculpture, which she dubs Carl. Practically overnight, April becomes a huge celebrity with a channel, and even a brand, to maintain and protect. And it turns out that more than 60 other Carls appeared in cities all over the world. Is this a massive art installment, or the start of an alien invasion? When people around the world all start having the same dream, answers about the Carls seem further away than ever before, but are definitely leaning more toward alien invasion. As the unwitting ambassador to the Carls, April faces tremendous opposition as she tries to use her celebrity to put a positive spin on something no one really knows anything about. As a few people become more and more frightened, April becomes the focus of their anger, and a target in their crosshairs, too.
Is it any good?
Lively, absorbing, and original, Hank Green's debut novel offers lots of food for thought in a refreshing and engaging way, with an appealing, funny protagonist and very compelling story. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing explores fame, celebrity, power, uncertainty, fear of the unknown, friendship, selfishness, media frenzy, and more. But it does all that in an entertaining and engaging way thanks to plenty of humor, a narrator who's easy to relate to even as you watch her make one mistake after another, and a well-structured plot that keeps the pages turning as it moves in unexpected directions.
The present-day setting and thorough grounding in the here and now make it a terrific option for readers who aren't usually drawn to science fiction. It also adds relevance to the many issues teens will relate to surrounding social media, celebrity influence, and how people respond to things they don't understand. The ending leaves the door wide open, and fans will be glad to know that a sequel is planned. Mild sexuality, some strong language, and brief violence make it best for high-schoolers and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how social media is portrayed in An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. Is it realistic? How does it divide people? How does it bring them together?
Do celebrities, especially on social media, really have a big influence on your life, or the lives of your friends? What's the source of their power and influence? Do they deserve it?
If a giant sculpture suddenly appeared on your street, do you think you'd react more like April, or more like Peter Petrawicki? How do you handle uncertainty, and fear of the unknown?
Are there rules about how much screen time you have at home, or at school? Are they fair? Is it different if your playing a game, say, as opposed to scrolling through Twitter or Instagram? Why, or why not?
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