A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green
So…y’all might think you’ve heard me go off on a book before, but I’m about to actually go off on a book.
Not that there aren’t things I enjoyed about this book. But I think someone with a brain and a handsomely paid editor can be held up to higher expectations than this. So, let’s dive in. (Some vague spoilers to follow.)
First of all, this book doesn’t read like speculative fiction. It reads like Hank Green speculated a premise and then wrote the first result that he and his worldview came up with, no speculation involved. Maybe he’s not the only speculative fiction author to do so, but I’m not here to critique other authors. We’re here for Green.
Second big complaint: this book is meaningless except for the lives of his four (and a half) special characters. The book ends with no consequences for the human race, except for some new knowledge. But the new knowledge and its repercussions aren’t even discussed in the resolution of the book. It’s just warm and cozy feelings for the protagonists.
Speaking of characters, ya girl has some issues there as well. I don’t think we were supposed to find April May entirely likeable in the first book, but in the second book she has this completely unrealistic redemption arc, and I’m not even the first person to complain about this. See, her personality doesn’t change, per se, but she has developed an absolutely unrealistic reaction to social media. As a character, she would absolutely relapse, but Green has decided she’s *grown,* and is, therefore, immune to her past vices just because time passed around her.
Other things about characters. There were characters I actually really liked, but they were criminally underdeveloped. Bex was so good, yet was given so little space to exist. Robin was almost completely left out. You have to cut these characters if you’re not intending to give them your fair time. And I genuinely wish they’d had their fair time!
I also was a big fan of the different threads of the story early on. I thought Maya, Miranda, and Andy all had their own crazy interesting story. At that point, I was really hooked; I didn’t want to put the book down. Unfortunately, once all was explained, only Miranda’s thread (no pun intended) was really that interesting. From there, the plot just kind of continued exactly as expected for the rest of the book.
Until they got to the climax, that is. Because the climax was much worse than expected. It just…didn’t exist. I think the writing lost its intensity partway through the climax, and then the actual events of the climax were completely skipped. Straight into epilogical summary! I deserved better, Hank!!
Also deserved better worldbuilding. Green really took the easy way out with his explanations of the Carls, by barely explaining them at all. Luckily, he has to do absolutely no worldbuilding for another type of life form, because then he’d have to admit that all sentient life that we’re aware of is kind of inherently messed up.
That’s the thing. That’s the final thing, folks. That’s what made this book kind of suck. Hank Green really said, “If someone has different prejudices than you, that means you don’t have to look at their point of view because they’re an irredeemable person.” Not in those words. But I dare you to tell me that’s not an appropriate paraphrase. I understand that prejudices suck; they ruin lives. But to think that they live exclusively in the people you disagree with? Unacceptable. And, more than that, you are never allowed to stop looking at others’ points of view. No matter who you are. Everyone thinks they’re right. Everyone, if given the excuse, will label a pejorative on someone and consider their opinions subhuman. Hank Green is trying to excuse people like him from their human duty to empathy, because it really is a duty. The only way to eliminate confirmation bias is for all of us to actually look at others’ points of view–not to write all the “good guys” to have the same worldview and snarky attitude as us, not to throw in distracting plot points to paint other people poorly, and definitely not to excuse ourselves from empathy.
This book could have been better. If you want to read this book but written infinitely better, pick up Axiom’s End by Lindsey Ellis. I’ll be here, waiting for Hank Green to write me the book I know that he’s capable of.