John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed is a book to read when no one’s listening, or at least when you feel that way. In it, Green rates seemingly random concepts like the world’s largest ball of paint or Halley’s Comet through the lens of startlingly harsh realities of capitalistic greed and mental illness. If ever a “pandemic novel” existed, The Anthropocene Reviewed would cling tightly to that moniker, guiding readers through the blender of emotions that come with locking our restless souls inside for a year as the world passes us by.
The novel feels at once old and young, boomeranging between Green’s isolated past and our shared, newborn present, while consistent references to other literary landscapes will make the bookworm feel at home. Helplessness frequently pairs with hopelessness, anger, fear, and incurable sadness throughout the brief chapters. Yet somehow, without sugarcoating life’s worst happenings, Green leaves room for humanity’s most welcome and unexpected echoes: sparks of love, kindness, and hope. His vulnerability makes opening up to the sometimes hard-to-swallow realities exponentially easier, lulling the reader into examining our power and futility on Earth.
The Anthropocene Reviewed is as much a love letter, as it is a thank you note, to human existence and the world that makes it possible. Green carefully slips reflective thoughts on our simultaneously large and small impact between plush anecdotes that ignite nostalgia and tickle our sympathy. Pleasant little footnotes hang onto the bottom of the page, popping up like an unexpected run-in with a classmate or an old friend (Oh, hey!). While posing as a nonfiction novel, The Anthropocene Reviewed never caves into the dry, brittle space that the constant spitting of facts can lead a reader into. Rather, Green uses the same close-to-the-heart prose found in his beloved classic, The Fault in Our Stars, taking the hand of the reader and wading through the always interesting, hardly overwhelming truths.
Green glides, trips, and occasionally falls flat on his face into life’s purported shames, mustering the courage to do it all over again, while encouraging readers to do the same. Rather than oppressing us with sick positivity that takes a toll on the mind, it pushes us towards a tempered optimism frequently lost to life’s apathy.
Regardless of how much of the world you’ve seen, or missed, Green skillfully peels away the film of indifference, revealing absurdity and beauty in the mundane. One of the only drawbacks is that it’s too short, leaving you to wonder what other little miracles lie in roadside attractions and flocks of angry geese. The reader walks away thinking, in the words of Green, “what an astonishment to breathe on this breathing planet.”
To divert from the Green’s five star rating system would be the ultimate insult to a novel seeking to do nothing but shed comfort, and so I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.