Rating: A desktop-sized collector-quality Samurai robot flashing a peace sign
Highlight of note: A man writes a bisexual female lead without making her sex-crazed and promiscuous.
Will you read more by this author? Probably, yes.
Favorite Quote: This is from the author's notes rather than the actual text, but I loved it so much I have to share it: "I also want to say thank you to every single person who ever says "You have to read this book!" to a friend. I don't care if it's this book; I just want people to remind each other how wonderful books are." To which I can only say, "Amen, Hank!"
Obviously, the main reason I picked this book up is because it was written by Hank Green. I know him largely from Crash Course (see the Crash Course YouTube page if you don't know what that is and feel free to thank me later for alerting you to its existence), which he does with his brother, John. It's one of my favorite things ever. Now here's a confession that I make knowing it will upset a lot of people: I don't much care for John Green's books. It's not that they aren't well written; they absolutely are. It's just I'm depressed enough already, thank you. I've read several of them but usually ended with a sense of "Why did I do that to myself?" Despite that, I was intrigued when "the other Green brother" wrote a novel and wanted to check it out.
I went in knowing absolutely nothing about it other than that it had an unexciting cover, a nondescript title, and an author with a high level name recognition in the circles I travel. Therefore, when protagonist April May came across the massive samurai robot statue that would come to be known as "New York Carl" I had no idea if I should be assuming this was an artwork or an alien mech warrior. I enjoyed that uncertainty enough that I'm not going to tell you anything more detailed unless you go past the spoiler warnings below.
At the end of the day, it didn't really matter what Carl was because the book was only about him or even about its plot on a very superficial level. It's mostly a discourse on the nature of fame and on human tribalism.
April May has the name of a Mary Sue. And my son, who has put a lot of research into the concept of the cloyingly perfect characters known as Mary Sues, tells me "bisexual female" is a modern Mary Sue trait. (This confused me because it's been my experience that while bisexual women are treated more favorably than bisexual men, we're still under-represented and frequently very poorly portrayed. This was touched on in the novel when April is advised to "just be lesbian" by her agent under the theory that the optics of bisexuality are mostly negative.) April isn't a Mary Sue, though. If anything, she's more of an antihero. Despite the fact that people eventually start trying to kill her, her main enemy through to the very end of the narrative is herself. Her brand is about loving each other and trusting in the goodness of others, yet she constantly sabotages her own relationships and even her safety through her flaws of insecurity and hubris. (Odd how often those two things pair up, isn't it?) At times it's really hard to like April, in part because even though she is the narrator, there's a part of her that actively wants you to dislike her so that she'll feel less pressure to care about your feelings. Yet, she's not a heartless bitch; she's just a young woman with faulty defense mechanisms.
As I said, this story is a discussion as much as a narrative. Things happen. Interesting things, even. But they're not really the point of the book. The point is to tell us about humanity through the lens of a regular girl (April is only twenty-three) who rises to global fame. At times it felt a bit too overt in its lecturing, leaving me rolling my eyes and going, "Yes, yes, tribalism leads to poor behavior. This is known!" but the plot is strong enough to make pulling through all that worthwhile.
I found the ending a little anticlimactic, but I'm not sure it isn't the sort of thing I'll like more than longer it percolates in my mind and I'm honestly not certain how I would have ended it differently.
Overall, I don't regret reading this and don't think most people would. So while it didn't jump onto my list of favorites, it did leave me interested in Hank's future works.
Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.
4% Wait, why is a dude writing from the POV of a lesbian (or possible bisexual)? As he's someone I feel familiar with, I'll not toss the book down in disgust, but really? Also, April May is dating someone named Maya. What's up with that?
5% There's a character named Andy. It's always weird when a character has your name, isn't it? This a boy Andy, which throws me off even more.
8% That didn't seem like a particularly interesting video. Not sure how it beat out the music videos that usually claim the title to be the most viewed thing on YouTube.
9% There are big robot samurai all over the world? Viral art or alien invasion? I know nothing about this book other than who wrote it, so I honestly don't know if it's sci-fi or not.
11% "Don't Stop Me Now" Hmm... Could indicate aliens. I mean, there are words like "I'm traveling at the speed of light" and "I'm a rocket ship on its way to Mars." Or it could be saying it's going to assimilate people "I wanna make a supersonic man out of you!" Or the artist could just really like Queen.
(Also, Other Andy hadn't heard of this song. I weep for today's youth.)
Also, is 23rd Street a reference to the human genome?
12% Ok, this Wikipedia thing is weird and creepy. A universe where new misspellings appear every time you fix a misspelling and the original misspelling doesn't even get resolved is something I may have had nightmares about.
13% I A M U hmm...
14% It would have been awesome if these things WERE viral advertising for a previously unreleased Queen album coming out. Not a great story, but I'd love a new Queen album.
26% Agent wants April to "just be gay" because apparently she doesn't think bisexuality is good for marketing. This does not endear her to me.
30% Carl's hand ran away... Well, that's interesting.
35% The new assistant is moving to NYC on three hours notice? That's some career dedication.
36% She was right. The way she treated Maya was horrible.
51% April is deeply flawed. The Defenders are even more so though. Why is everything about fear for some people?
56% I have been expecting Miranda and Andy to hook up since LA... Wonder how much longer it will take.
60% Oh, dear. April has hooked up with Miranda. That complicates things
64% I feel the allegory has become excessively lecturey over the last few pages.
65% Global attacks by Defender types. Can't say I'm shocked.
65% Something shoved April out of harm's way and she doesn't know what... Could it have been the missing hand?
66% It was the hand! One might wonder how it got from LA to NYC, but it's a mysterious alien hand, so what's the point?
69% "It's not really news until they stop running ads." Very valid observation...
73% The attempted assassin turned to goo? Huh?
78% Ah, the Carls turned him into goo. Got it. So why are they repeatedly protecting April while letting tons of other people die around them?
80% Grape jelly? That's more humorous than I was expecting. Trying to lessen the scariness of someone dying by having their insides turned to goo?
83% The answer to the 747 puzzle is "Call Me Maybe?" Literally laughing out loud here.
88% I TOTALLY forgot that clue! Well played, Mr Green.
89% "Of course it's Bowie." I mean how could it NOT be Bowie?
91% Eek. Trapped by the bad guys! The Carls aren't going to like that. And, also, the local authorities should be on their way because everyone knows where she is... Unless they blow the building before anyone gets there...
91% Or is it the bad guys? Someone has changed Bowie's lyrics on the Spotify copy of Golden Age, which is playing in the building April's trapped in. That sounds like a Carl thing to do. But the building's on fire, which implies someone really is trying to hurt her
98% All this stuff from Andy would probably have me misty eyed if I thought April was really dead. But she wrote the rest of this book later, so the worst she is now is a computer-hosted consciousness.
99% THE END
Hmm... A little anticlimactic. A message from April proving she's not dead (although not that her body recovered because it's just a text) but giving us no information. I'll need to process how I feel about this.