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John Green’s brother takes on cyber-celebrity in ‘Absolutely Remarkable Thing’

Hank Green.
Hank Green. | Provided photo

Making online videos with his super-popular young-adult-author brother John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”) has helped Hank Green find his own following.

But the 38-year-old vlogger, musician, educator and entrepreneur did more than just pull from his own life when he wrote his new book about the consequences of cyber-celebrity.

“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” (Dutton, $26), Hank Green’s debut novel, tells the story of 20-something New Yorker April May and her friends, who pretty much become the most important people in the world when their video of a 10-feet-tall alien robot goes viral.

These metal mysteries begin to show up in cities all over, and international eyes turn to April to find out why they’re here.

“Among the reasons I felt so motivated to write this was that I needed this story to really wrap my brain around fame, my relationship with my audience, some of the mistakes I’ve made, and my deeper worries about the social Internet,” says Green, whose 2015 interview with President Barack Obama proved instructive when he wrote scenes in which April chats with her own commander-in-chief.

“I think about this stuff a lot not just because it’s important to my life but because I feel a responsibility to other people going through this.”

Green talks about the new book and his fan-favorite older sibling:

Question: What was fun about coming up with April’s character?

Answer: She’s ambitious, but she’s afraid to admit to her ambition. She has big ideas about how she would like to see the world change but never really believed that she’d have an opportunity to have real power. She’s charming and confident, or, at least, that’s how she appears. Oftentimes, the people who seem most confident seem that way because they’ve had their whole lifetimes to learn how to pretend.

Q: How much was your brother an inspiration in writing a novel?

A: John certainly helped me believe that being an author is the kind of thing that actual, real people do. But ultimately I wrote this book because I felt like I needed it and also that maybe other people did, too. It was so fun and scary and exciting. I’m excited to do it more, especially because there is a lot to this story that isn’t in this book, and I think I have more to learn from these characters.

Hank Green (left) with his brother and best-selling author John Green at Carnegie Hall in 2013. Hank Green says writing his debut book was “so fun and scary and exciting.” | Provided photo
Hank Green (left) with his brother and best-selling author John Green at Carnegie Hall in 2013. Hank Green says writing his debut book was “so fun and scary and exciting.” | Provided photo

Q: What did you want to say about our social media, culture and celebrity in this tale of friends and alien robots?

A: It’s very hard to talk about any of that stuff for me without talking about fear. Fear is so isolating, and social media allows people the opportunity to indulge in anger and fear, obviously. But it also lets us feel the value of being a part of a movement while still being isolated.

One of the things I like most about April is that she sees herself as an antidote to fear. She feels deep down that if she loses that battle in people’s minds, it might literally end our species, which is of course way too much pressure for her to put on herself and it leads to some pretty self-destructive decisions. But these days I think that’s true of a lot of people. We’ve stopped seeing each other, and even ourselves, as people, and instead we imagine ourselves as tools for winning some sociopolitical war, and I don’t think that’s a good path.

<a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2018/09/24/read-exclusive-excerpt-hank-greens-absolutely-remarkable-thing/1373155002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Click here to read an excerpt.</a>
Click here to read an excerpt.