Admit it: If you were walking down the street at night and saw a large alien robot just standing there, you'd pull your phone out. You'd probably tweet it. Instagram? Naturally. Maybe even Facebook, too.
So when April May witnesses a mysterious giant, she calls her best friend Andy and they share their finding on YouTube. April quickly learn what it means to be famous and the costs of going viral in "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing" (Dutton, on sale Sept. 25), the debut novel from Hank Green (brother of YA-book superstar John Green, author of "The Fault in Our Stars").
USA TODAY has an exclusive excerpt from the first chapter that introduces April, a 23-year-old art-school-grad and graphic designer who lives in New York City and dates her roommate Maya. She's on her way back to the office when she's faced with a metal monstrosity, and there's only one person she thinks of ringing.
The walk sign is on, so I cross 23rd, and a taxicab blares its horn like I shouldn’t be in the crosswalk. Whatever, dude, I have the walk light. I turn to head back to the office and immediately I see it. As I approach, it becomes clear that it is a really ... REALLY exceptional sculpture.
I mean, it’s AWESOME, but it’s also a little bit “New York awesome,” you know?
How do I explain how I felt about it? I guess ... well ... in New York City people spend ten years making something amazing happen, something that captures the essence of an idea so perfectly that suddenly the world becomes ten times clearer. It’s beautiful and it’s powerful and someone devoted a huge piece of their life to it. The local news does a story about it and everyone goes “Neat!” and then tomorrow we forget about it in favor of some other ABSOLUTELY PERFECT AND REMARKABLE THING. That doesn’t make those things unwonderful or not unique ... It’s just that there are a lot of people doing a lot of amazing things, so eventually you get a little jaded.
So that’s how I felt when I saw it – a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor, its huge barrel chest lifted up to the sky a good four or five feet above my head. It just stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, full of energy and power. It looked like it might, at any moment, turn and fix that empty, regal stare on me. But instead it just stood there, silent and almost scornful, like the world didn’t deserve its attention. In the streetlight, the metal was a patchwork of black‑as‑night matte and mirror-reflective silver. And it clearly was metal ... not some spray-painted cardboard cosplay thing. It was stunningly done. I paused for maybe five seconds before shivering both in the cold and in the gaze of the thing and then walking on.
And then I. Felt. Like. The. Biggest. Jerk.
I mean, I’m an artist working way too hard at a deeply uninteresting job to pay way too much in rent so I can stay in this place — so that I can remain immersed in one of the most creative and influential cultures on earth. Here in the middle of the sidewalk is a piece of art that was a massive undertaking, an installation that the artist worked on, possibly for years, to make people stop and look and consider. And here I am, hardened by big-city life and mentally drained by hours of pixel pushing, not even giving something so magnificent a second glance.
Hank Green, left, with his brother, best-selling author John Green, at the Jan. 15, 2013 "Evening of Awesome" at Carnegie Hall in New York. More than 2,800 fans attended the show.
Hank Green, left, with his brother, best-selling author John Green, at the Jan. 15, 2013 "Evening of Awesome" at Carnegie Hall in New York. More than 2,800 fans attended the show. (Photo: Andrea Fischman)
I remember this moment pretty clearly, so I guess I’ll mention it. I went back to the sculpture, got up on my tiptoes, and I said, “Do you think I should call Andy?”
The sculpture, of course, did nothing.
“Just stand there if it’s OK for me to call Andy.”
And so I made the call.
But first, some background on Andy!
You know those moments when your life shifts and you think, I will definitely, without a doubt, continue to love and appreciate and connect with all of these cool people I have spent so many years with, despite the fact that our lives are changing a great deal right now, and then instead you might as well unfriend them on Facebook because you ain’t never gonna see that dude again in your whole life? Well, Andy, Maya, and I had somehow (thus far) managed to avoid that fate. Maya and I had done it by occupying the same four hundred square feet.
Andy, on the other hand, lived across town from us, and we didn’t even know him until junior year. Maya and I, by that point, were taking most of the same classes because, well, we really liked each other a lot. We were obviously going to be in the same group whenever there was a group project. But Professor Kennedy was dividing us up into groups of three, which meant a random third wheel. Somehow we got stuck with Andy (or probably, from his perspective, he got stuck with us).
I knew who Andy was. I had formed a vague impression of him that was mostly “that guy sure is more confident than he has any right to be.” He was skinny and awkward with printer-paper-pale skin. I assumed he began his haircuts by asking the stylist to make it look like he had never received a haircut. But he was always primed for some quip, and for the most part, those quips were either funny or insightful.
The project was a full brand treatment for a fictional product. Packaging was optional, but we needed several logo options and a style guide (which is like a little book that tells everyone how the brand should be presented and what fonts and colors are to be used in what situations). It was more or less a given that we would be doing this for some hip and groovy fictional company that makes ethical, fair-trade jeans with completely useless pockets or something. Actually, it was almost always a fictional brewery because we were college students. We were paying a lot of money to cultivate our taste in beer and be snobby about it.
And I’m sure that’s the direction Maya and I would have gone in, but Andy was intolerably stubborn and somehow convinced us both that we would be building the visual identity of “Bubble Bum,” a butt-flavored bubble gum. At first his arguments were silly, that we weren’t going to be doing fancy cool (stuff) when we graduated, so we might as well not take the project so seriously. But he convinced us when he got serious.
“Look, guys,” he said, “it’s easy to make something cool look cool, that’s why everyone picks cool things. Ultimately, though, cool is always going to be boring. What if we can make something dumb look amazing? Something unmarketable, awesome? That’s a real challenge. That takes real skill. Let’s show real skill.”
I remember this pretty clearly because it was when I realized there was more to Andy.