“What is reality except for the things that people universally experience the same way?”
Who would have thought that Hank is the better writing Green brother? Okay, okay, this comparison isn’t fair. They write in wildly different genres. But, damn Hank. Damn.
The book starts when April May, a graphic design graduate whose true passion is fine arts, is going home after a long day of work. It’s 3 a.m. It’s also NY, so the fact that she was still at work at that time is not so surprising. Anyway, she’s on the street, and that’s when she walks by this massive statue. It’s unlike anything she’s seen before — like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor. After a rather relatable inner monologue about how we take so many remarkable things for granted on the daily, she decides that that is not going to be one. She calls a college friend, Andy, who has a YouTube channel, and tells him about this thing and that they should make a video about it. So, they do. By the time she wakes up the next morning, the video is already viral. News quickly spreads that there are Carls (the name she gave to the statue) in dozens of cities around the world — everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires — and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight. And that’s how everything starts.
This story has many layers. This is one of those books that you’ll have to read again at different times of your life to find new meanings. At this point of my life, though, if I could sum it up in one word, it had to be relevant.
[I’ll get a little spoilery for the rest of the post, so if you haven’t read already and don’t want to know what happens (I absolutely recommend this approach), stop reading now! But come back later, please!]
We follow the journey of our heroine April May as she slowly gets caught up in something that has virtually nothing to do with her. We witness as she tries to insert herself in the narrative, at first with the naïve hope she’ll get to do something good with whatever she gets out of the situation, then with pure raw desire for power. We see her making right and wrong decisions, we understand her motivations, we share her wishes. It’s heartbreaking to see April lose herself in the spiral she steps in, mainly because it’s so relatable.
Fame is addictive. I’m sure we’ve all heard that at some point. We know it, yet we have no idea how it happens (unless you are famous, which is not my case). This is where this story shines for me — we get to see the hows and whys that lead people to crave the attention. And how dangerous and destructive it can get. How, once you get a little power, you can’t help but want more.
There were several instances in the story where I felt personally attacked (like the kids say these days). April mentions how easy it is to become a professional arguer and waste so much time and energy trying to win big arguments with people who disagree with you. Mainly because you’re mad or scared or confused or lost — just for the sake of having something to do. She also mentions how we use social media to shout at each other and never listen. How easy it is to divide, focus on your own belief bubble (or echo chamber) and just hate or dismiss anything and anyone different. Hank has talked about the problem of echo chambers before on his YouTube channel and, although I had agreed at the time, I didn’t quite understand how it worked, or why it wasn’t necessarily a positive thing. This is a point he masterfully gets across in the book. I felt guilty. I felt responsible. I saw myself in so many situations that April went through or had to deal with that it was almost scary.
One of my favorite parts is when April realizes how dehumanized she is in the eyes of the people who don’t agree with her. We get to see how it happens, and how easy it is to do it. It happens daily — in the news, in social media, in conversations with friends. We do that with so many people. It’s really that easy. And so, so unfair.
Regardless of your opinion about the story, or if you liked the book or no, I think this is a conversation that we should be having. It’s a reflection we should be doing. Yes, I think it’s that relevant.
Oh, and remember the statues? There’s also this whole alien mystery thing happening around them at the same time. If you have read my previous #RecentReads post, you know I’ve been partial to aliens this year. I wonder if that’s a sign. Should I write an alien into my next book?
If you have read this book, please leave your thoughts below! What was your favorite part? Do you agree with my take on it? Let’s discuss!
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