In his much-anticipated debut novel, Hank Green—cocreator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShow—spins a sweeping, cinematic tale about a young woman who becomes an overnight celebrity before realizing she’s part of something bigger, and stranger, than anyone could have possibly imagined.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had mixed feelings about this one. I enjoyed parts of it, other parts I didn’t. I read this for the Nerdfighteria Book Club. I don’t know who specifically I would recommend it to. It’s quite the mix of genres but I think those who enjoy sci-fi, young adult, and books with pop culture references relative to this particular time period, give or take 10 years, would enjoy it.
The writing style was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed it on one hand because I appreciated the casual conversation-like structure and dialogue that was relevant to its time. I typically enjoy books that are written this way to a point because most writers will make each word count and many are written with a prose that is deep and lyrical. This was not that style and therefore came off as a bit sloppy to me. Often it was: Say, explain, say, explain. There was a lack of cohesiveness and structure even for prose. I just wanted something more allegorical to compliment the Carls and to help me embrace the reach for the ultimate let’s feel good acceptance of the ending.
The characters weren’t fully developed. There were just too many explanations of the character’s thoughts and thought process itself. Basically everything about the characters was told to me rather than shown which made them quite shallow and less relatable. There was a lack of emotional resolution for the hurts that were experienced. For an ending like that, there should have some moment of the book to help bring satisfaction or justice or some type of persuasion, importance, or purpose for including them. Many of the character qualities that were introduced in the beginning never found their way to be either celebrated or overcome in the end. I was hoping the main character, April, would have perhaps used her appreciation for fine art to help drive her scene descriptions since it were being told from her point of view.
My favorite part of the book was the narrative surrounding the Carls, the concept was absolutely creative! It was playful and fun. It included supportive themes that make for good science fiction. And I really appreciated the integration of modern day pop culture both in reference and in plot building. I also liked the way the book was organized as far as the titling and timing of events.
However my love for these aspects stopped there though. There was an overshadowing tone that vacillated between being over-scrupulous to complete disregard. It often felt like a push toward the author’s personal agendas which didn’t quite fit into the main premise of the plot when I thought it was going to be about the Carls and the cool concept I built up in my mind about them. Instead to me it read like: Here is my one chance to share all of my deeply personal thoughts and feelings about my worldview and by the way we were visited by awesome space aliens that made us solve puzzles in our dreams and they parked themselves in front of Chipotle. As a result it felt too trying in sharing philosophical notions. It came off as preachy and far-reaching to have mass appeal and human relatability along with the overindulgent sharing of political and moral positions and ideals. I’ve read books similar to this where instead of telling the story it becomes more about the agenda behind the story and makes the reader feel like they’ve been taken advantage of. There just was a lot of going out of the way to prove a point which was in addition to the interruptions and distractions I felt when there was a changing in the of POV, sentence structure, over explanations, or over simplified definitions in effort to keep multigenerational appeal. And back to the characters, I think April could have added so much interest and depth to the tone once we were introduced to her as a person who appreciated fine art. Perhaps the interjections could have been more about art and culture appreciation and preservation especially if the author really wanted to support the shift in focus.
As far as the plot itself was concerned, it lacked complete resolution and closure. It did not evoke the emotional depth I hoped it would have. Basically it was a strong narrative overshadowed by a tossing of facts without a call to action. It was ranty, rambly, and confusing to me as to whether each line was an opportunity to make a case for educating the audience, an opportunity to vent, or support the main idea of Carls in the storyline. It lacked solidarity as to what me as the reader should be doing with the information that I just read. And interestingly enough, the actual plot about the Carls moves slow when looking beyond all the interjections and chatter. There were just too many concepts and layers being built on top of the plot (instead of developing it) and so I found myself speed reading rather than truly enjoying it. And after all that building of the climax, when the conclusion came, I really saw how uninvested I was.
Two questions: Why would the EMTs be so concerned with potential litigation by oversharing or giving a prognosis of possible false hope, yet do such a ridiculous thing like give water to a trauma patient? And the surprise visit by the president? I almost wanted to give up reading when there was no mention of what would have taken place as protocol in preparation of a visit with the commander in chief. Perhaps waking to the sound of a sniffing dog would have sufficed, something, anything to help bridge these gaps in the scene when building up momentum for a story.
I will be looking forward to the next book though, I love and respect the concept about the Carls and I really do hope that there is more to them!