Paper Back Release: In Hank Green’s debut novel, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” — which debuted on the fiction list at No. 1 — 23-year-old April May, coming home from work late one night in New York City, stumbles upon an enormous metal sculpture planted on the sidewalk, “a 10-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor, its huge barrel chest lifted up to the sky.” She and a friend shoot a video of it, which they upload to YouTube, and go to bed. By the next morning, the video has gone viral, transforming April into an internet celebrity.
Green, who introduces himself on his website by saying diffidently, “I’m Hank, I do a bunch of stuff. I’m actually pretty sleepy,” knows a thing or two about internet fame: “Since 2007, my brother and I have been making videos back and forth to each other (and several hundred thousand people) on a YouTube channel called Vlogbrothers.”
Green tapped into his own experiences — and those of friends — for April’s story. “If you have exceptional experiences, why not use them?” he says, describing how his interview with Barack Obamaplayed out in a scene where April talks to the president.
“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” started out as a graphic novel back in 2013, “but I realized I was waiting for the perfect artist and if I kept doing that, it would never get written,” Green says. So he plunged in. “Yes, it’s about the dark side of fame on the internet, but it’s about the dark side of fame in general, the weirdness of it. Notoriety is such a prized thing. Society suddenly wants your opinion on things — everyone from your mom to an editor at The New York Times.”
As Green wrote, online culture grew ever more poisonous. Of one of the book’s minor characters, an evil internet troll, he says, “When I first started writing, I thought, ‘this one is a bit over the top.’ I didn’t want him to be hackneyed and boring. And then the world caught up with the book.”
Green says, “Everyone talks about how the anonymity of the internet allows people to behave badly, but I think it’s the other way around, that the anonymity removes the ‘self’ from the people we’re talking to online. Other people lose their humanity in our eyes. The system is set up to dehumanize.” Is it fixable? “We forget all the time how very new this all is,” he says, “and that we might not have the norms to handle it.”
He’s already at work on a sequel. “The whole time I was writing this book, I had strong ideas about where it was going — and then I finished before I got there.”