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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Do You Hear the People Sing: A Review of Anthem by Noah Hawley

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.

Boy, oh boy, do I have a treat for you today. Today’s review is brought to you by Novel Suspects Insider’s Club; they aren’t paying me for my review, they just sent me the book for free. Big thank you to Novel Suspects and Grand Central Publishing for sending me an ARC of Anthem by Noah Hawley which is set to release next Tuesday, January 18, 2022. I can't thank them enough for sending me an ARC, it means a lot that someone out there wants to send me some advanced reader copies. Although, I don’t think Hachette is going to like me that much once I’m done with this review. Spoiler alert, I didn’t like this book.

Book cover of Anthem by Noah Hawley.

I’m going to get to the synopsis in one moment, but first I have a major trigger and content warning. Anthem deals with suicide. The whole book is focused on suicide. There are also discussions of pedophilia, sexual assault, rape, physical and mental abuse, grooming, eating disorders, drug use, self-harm, a lot of gun violence, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, there’s probably some transphobia in there as well. Basically anything bad and triggering that you can think of is in this book. I probably should have listed triggers that aren't in this book; that’s how fucked up it is. Oh yeah, and all those triggers and -isms are directed at minors. Most of Anthem’s main characters are between the ages of 15 and 18. TL;DR, this book is messed up and it took me two weeks to get through because I needed a lot of breaks. This is not a "sit down and read the day away" type of book.

Bears waving.
I totally don't blame you if you're jumping ship. Next week is something no where near as heavy so I'll see you then..

Now, I’m going to include the official synopsis first before I put my version in because this book is sure as hell not what it claims to be.

Something is happening to teenagers across America, spreading through memes only they can parse.
At the Float Anxiety Abatement Center, in a suburb of Chicago, Simon Oliver is trying to recover from his sister’s tragic passing. He breaks out to join a woman named Louise and a man called the Prophet on a quest as urgent as it is enigmatic. Who lies at the end of the road. A man known as the Wizard, whose past encounter with Louise sparked her own collapse. Their quest becomes a rescue mission when they join up with a man whose sister is being held captive by the Wizard, impregnated and imprisoned in a tower.

Yeah, this book ain’t that. Simon, Louise, and the Prophet break out of the Float Anxiety Abatement Center more so because they can and don’t really want to be at the center. They do go on this rescue mission to save a young woman who was raped and impregnated by the slimeball Wizard character, but that doesn’t occur until the very end of the novel. And teens and young adults are sadly committing suicide in the thousands all across the world. Those are the only truths in the official synopsis.

Anthem is really the story of America, and how batshit crazy the world has become since 2015. It is the story of runaway teens, wannabe crime fighters, vigilantly justice, the hopelessness that humanity feels courtesy of the state of the world, and God…? God is somehow involved in this novel, but that part is never really fleshed out. Listen, this book has a lot going on, and even after reading all 400+ pages, I still don’t know what the main theme is supposed to be.

Seriously, I don’t know what Noah Hawley is trying to say with his latest book. Nothing in it really makes sense, and I don’t know if that was intentional or not.

Utter chaos.
You could tell me this was a scene in Anthem and I'd believe you; that's how crazy things get in this novel.

I think Hawley is trying to say that the world has reached its lowest point, or it's on the verge of it, but don’t quote me on that. Also, if that is the point he’s trying to make, then all I have to say on the matter is that I don’t need a novel to tell me such. All I have to do is watch the news to figure that out for myself. Hawley sets his story in a present-day, dystopian America where everything is simultaneously terrifying and insane. That's not what I want to read about. I use books as a form of escapism, I'm not here to read about the 2016 clown epidemic.

Now, if you want to quote me on something, you can quote me on my hatred for Anthem’s selection of Manic Pixie Dream Girls. There are only two types of women in this novel: villains or the above. Every young woman and teen girl is the epitome of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and poor Louise gets it the worst.

A reminder, a lot of the characters in this novel are minors. Louise is 15-years-old, she is a literal child, but she is a highly sexualized, static, stereotype of a black woman. She’s every bad stereotype wrapped into one. Again, she’s 15, and she’s treated as an object by a decent amount of characters. I…I just have no words. Noah Hawley, do better.

Then there’s Claire. Who’s Claire? Claire is Simon’s, remember him(?), older sister who is one of the first teens to commit suicide. Yeah, remember, this book is about an epidemic of teens committing suicide? I forgot about that too just now. Anyway, Claire, as I said, is one of the first teens to take her own life, but that doesn’t mean she gets to escape the Manic Pixie Dream Girl experience. She’s basically an angel of death. Dressed all in white, she overdoses on the Opioids her father’s company produces, plasters pill bags all over the bathroom walls, and writes an essay about her life.

Miss Piggy banging her head on a table.
Can you hear me screaming?

I will give Noah Hawley this, he paints a very vivid picture. I just have a question for him: why are all your female characters like this? Specifically, why are the teen/young adult women like this? Why are you doing them so dirty?

Let’s circle back to the plot now. If I can even find a plot. Most of this novel is a journey through the insanity of the past six years. At some point, the main characters decide to take down the character known as the Wizard; who, by the way, is the embodiment of pure evil. On this nomadic quest, the group encounters the greatest hits of 2016 through 2021. I’m talking killer clowns, white supremacists, Jeffrey Epstein stand-ins, the January 6 Capital riot, Hamilton references; they’re all there!

But why?

NPH saying "why?"
Why are we bringing the clowns back up? I just forgot about them!

Most of these things are just here to create dangerous situations for our protagonists to encounter. I don’t feel like they offer much to the plot. I think the only thing they serve as is a reminder to readers about how insane the world has been these past couple of years. Sure, they add tension and are obstacles to overcome, but they feel included just because they can be.

And don’t expect things to be wrapped up by the end of the novel. Anthem is over 400 pages long, and there’s not much of a conclusion. I spent two weeks reading this thing, and while I did not expect things to be wrapped up in a pretty bow, I expected more than what happened. Our teenaged heroes manage to rescue the woman the Wizard tortured, as promised in the official synopsis, but there is no pizzaz. The climax happens in two short chapters with our protagonists simply getting in and out by using Louise as a prop. I read hundreds of pages on killer clowns, white supremacy, and sexualized teens for a rescue mission that isn’t even relevant until the tail end of the novel!? Nothing makes sense and I hate it here!

Miss Piggy banging her head on a table.
Yep, I'm still screaming.

I’m desperately trying to find something I enjoyed or found good in this book. But I simply can’t do it. Anthem is a mess. I cannot find a central theme or point the author is trying to make. I do not like this book. This is a bad book, and I don’t say that lightly. I am so glad that I did not spend money on this book. And if I did, a better use of said money would be to throw it down a well.

I’m gonna go now. I’m going to pick up a comfort read and enjoy that.

Progressive commercial character Dr. Rick saying "deep breaths."
I'm gonna be taking a lot of deep breaths until I've fully forgotten about this book.

I bid you all adieu. Until next time, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!

262 views2 comments


John G
John G
Jan 28

Thank you for writing this review so I know I’m not crazy. I bought this book because I liked his others, but I’ve hated it for the first few hundred pages and for all the reasons you describe. (First and foremost the bewildering lack of any hint or warning that the novel would begin with detailed accounts of child suicide, like wtf? And they don’t even relate to the plot?) The political commentary strikes me as so lazy and middle-of-the-road that I can’t take it seriously, but there’s no other plot or anything to grasp. World bad, kids good, here’s a bunch of real-life figures except I just won’t give their names but it’s obvious who I’m talking about, al…

Hannah Zunic
Hannah Zunic
Jan 29
Replying to

Thank you for reading!

I have to say, when I first published my review on Anthem on Goodreads and saw just how many four and five star reviews there were, I was shocked. I thought some people got a different book than I did lol.

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