Twenty-three year old April May is just about getting by in New York. Living with (but not living with) her girlfriend Maya and working in a role that utilises her degree, she’s doing OK. Then one night on her way home she stumbles upon a giant sculpture, a kind of Transformer wannabe in Samurai armour. Initially thinking it some sort of art installation, she calls her best friend Andy and they upload a video to Youtube. It goes viral, since the Carls, as they come to be known, have appeared in cities all over the world and do not appear to be of Earth’s origin…
We then follow April as she storms head first into the spotlight, thriving on the attention and desperate to give her adoring (and not so adoring) public what they want. Even if that means her friendships suffer along the way.
I wanted to like this more than I did. I still can’t decide where I am with it. I read it very fast so it certainly held my attention – the central mystery of the Carls and the way it’s set up with April retelling her story from some future point is intriguing. But I spent most of it just actively disliking April, and so it was hard to care too much about what happened to her. Especially when so much of it is of her own doing.
My usual caveat is that I know you don’t have to like the character you’re reading about to enjoy the book or get something out of it but here I really wish I did. I wish I was in it with her and rooting for her instead of mostly being bored and frustrated by her. I understand she’s being upfront and owning her mistakes/the way she acted but it doesn’t make it much easier to live through it with her. The fame goes to her head almost immediately, and for someone who didn’t give a crap moments before I found that a bit odd. Sure it’s an examination of the way we live now and how social media corrupts but I still have to buy it from the character, and I don’t. And if she was always kind of this awful then how does she have such amazing friends? Ones willing to put up with her and just float around her orbit while all this crazy stuff is going on?
Plus there are times when she is just straight up boring. Major, significant events are happening – change the world/future events, and she’s prattling on about parties she attended and books she’s writing. Again yeah it’s a commentary but maybe stop commenting and get on with it? She also doesn’t talk about what’s going on in the world or her own country – which she notes and says is deliberate because it’s her story. Which, fine, but that’s also a pretty convenient way of skirting around writing about it. Dangling a little bit of the worldwide reaction (aside from the die hard Carl supporters and opposition Defenders) would have been nice. Is everyone just going about their days while they know aliens are here?
If you’re someone who needs answers to all the questions that come with first contact with aliens then this isn’t a book for you. You don’t really get any. Because it’s not their story, it’s April’s. I actually don’t mind that. I figure that anything that tries to explain who the Carls are, what they want, where they come from, and exactly what happens to April is going to be a letdown, so just leaving it to the imagination is the best option. But that probably infuriates some people.
It’s a fast moving, well written, and often fun look at how we are as humans. It says a lot of smart things. Again, I wish I liked it more.