Since I've always been a fan of Young Adult and Juvenile books--love to read them, love to write them--I just had to see what all the fuss was about with author John Green's coming-of-age novel. What sets it apart from others in the genre?
I started reading and quickly found out: it's an original concept, a laugh-out-loud funny story, complete with satire and an American road trip that's unlike any road trip I ever took. I'm enamored with this book and Green's main character, Colin Singleton, a loner with a quirky fascination for anagrams, math and odd facts. His main problem is that he has a hard time making friends, but NO problem with finding girlfriends.
But keeping them is another story!
At the end of his senior year of high school, "Katherine the Nineteenth" dumps him ... only the latest in a chain of rejections. As a result, he becomes indecisive about his future and begins to question his identity, his future.
What is Colin's problem? Why can't he keep his friends? When his friend Hassan suggests a road trip, what happens when the boys take off? What does a cemetery in the middle of rural Tennessee have to do with him? And who's Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Will Colin and Hassan fulfill Colin's quest to understand why he is always being dumped by his girlfriends?
Since Colin is a fading prodigy whose hobbies include making anagrams, memorizing odd historical facts, mathematical equations, and dating girls named Katherine, what mathematical equation does he formulate to explain why so many dump him? And just how many Katherines make an "abundance?"
You're invited on Colin's journey to find the answers to all those questions, but I can tell you one thing without spoiling the plot: you're in for one hilarious road trip!
An Abundance of Katherines has a little bit of everything: adventure, humor, math, verbal games, little-known historical facts, and humorous tales of boy/girl relationships as the boys begin to learn more about the opposite sex.
Green is such a masterful storyteller with a talent for creating believable characters, I couldn't put this book down. I hope he writes a sequel because I'd like to have some more fun adventures with Colin and Hassan.
This hardcover version was published by Dutton Juvenile in 2006, but the paperback is due for release in August 2008. Since it's to be listed at $3.99, I suggest waiting until then to read it. What a bargain!
A final note: This is one of those YA books geared for adults too. I'm not the only one who enjoyed it; many of the rave reviews are from adults. I would have given it five stars, but in a few places it was not as smooth as it could have been.
Film rights to John Green's Printz-award-winning first book, Looking For Alaska, were acquired by Paramount Pictures, with production in its early stages.
Reviewed by: Betty Dravis, 2008
author of: The Toonies Invade Silicon Valley
on September 23, 2006
From third grade through his senior year of high school, Colin Singleton, child prodigy, has dated nineteen girls. All of them have been named Katherine (anagrammed in the rake; ie, her tank), and all of them have dumped him. Not for the same reasons, and not in the same way. Katherine XVIII dumped him in an email, for example. And K-19 dumped him immediately after graduation. Now, faced with a Katherine-less summer, Colin and his best friend, Hassan, decide to take a road trip. They are short-stopped in Gutshot, Tennessee, home to Archduke Franz Ferdinand's grave, with a job offer. Since there are no Katherines in sight, only Lindseys and Katrinas, the two boys settle in for the summer to interview textile workers, and, in Colin's case, come up with a mathematical formula for predicting the end result of a romantic relationship -- his Eureka moment. Layered with fun and funky characters, anagrams, formulas, flashbacks, and footnotes, this complex yet easy-to-read novel is not only compelling, but one of the smartest novels I've read in a long time.
Picture this: You used to be a childhood prodigy. Member of an academic game team. You excelled in school. You were special. You met a girl named Katherine and the two of you started dating.
Then she dumps you.
Then eighteen more girls named Katherine dump you.
Suddenly, you're a teenager with no claim to fame except for your former status as a prodigy. No new ideas. No girl. No plans for the summer excepting wasting away in your room and moping.
This is not your life. But it is Colin Singleton's life immediately after his graduation from high school.
Given Colin's history with girls, you might not be surprised that John Green chose to name his second novel An Abundance of Katherines--a title that proves itself even more apt as the novel progresses.
After sulking for several days after being dumped (again), Colin is dragged out of his room by Hasan, his best friend. Hassan is confident that the only cure for Colin's depression is a road trip. So Colin and his Judge-Judy-loving, overweight, Muslim pal head off for the great beyond that is the United States between the coasts. Their road trip stops in Gutshot, Tennessee. But the adventures don't. Hired by a local bigwig to compile an oral history of Gutshot, Colin and Hassan find themselves staying with Hollis and her daughter, Lindsey. It is in Gutshot that Colin finally has what he has always wanted, a truly original idea. Thus, Colin begins to create a theorem of love in his attempt to understand his own rocky love life.
Most of my friends who have read this book and Green's first novel Looking for Alaska agree that his second novel is not as compelling a read. Having only read "Katherines," I cannot make a judgment one way or the other. What I can say is that I loved the style of this book. There has been a growing trend to use footnotes in novels--notable examples include The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels, and Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn which is a novel written entirely of endnotes. Green continues that tradition here to good effect.
The tone throughout is quirky, nerdy, and generally fun. I don't know that reading this novel will change any lives, but it will certainly get a lot of laughs. The best parts are, undoubtedly, the dialogues between Hassan and Colin. The guys are just so likable! In addition, Green's writing is snappy--all the better to keep the laughs coming.
Some readers might find the name John Green familiar although they cannot say why. This year John and his brother Hank have earned a good amount of notoriety on the internet for their Brotherhood 2.0 vlog project (available on YouTube) in which the brothers send videos back and forth each weekday in lieu of text conversation (if you're curious be sure to check out the Feb. 14, 2007 post because it's my favorite). They are really funny and seeing John Green and his brother in these vlogs makes it easy to see how Green came up with the idea for Colin Singleton.
Like Nothing but the Truth by Justina Chen Headley, this book includes a bit of math. The "real" math behind Colin's theorem appears in the back of the book in an appendix and Green even has a website where you can use the theorem for your own relationships (if it doesn't crash your computer). Despite all of that, Green is a self-proclaimed lost cause when it comes to math. (The theorem was drafted by friend (and "resident mathematician" for Brotherhood 2.0), Daniel Biss.) I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. First, because I think it's great that Green is writing outside of what some might call his "comfort zone" and, second, because it should illustrate that you don't have to like math to enjoy a book that features a lot of math.
Anyway, if you need a cheerful book with some fun, lovable characters I don't think you can do better than this book which was recently nominated for the LA Times Book Award in addition to being selected as a Printz Award honor book (Looking for Alaska won the actual Printz Award, just to put that into perspective).
on January 11, 2007
An Abundance of Katherines is about many things: Heartbreak. Friends. Family. Math. Most importantly, it is about a young man who takes a road trip to find himself. The literal journey works well for the metaphorical one, of course, and is a familiar storytelling device. Author John Green has made it his own - or rather, Colin's own.
Colin Singleton used to be a prodigy. Used to be, because now he's a recent high school graduate, and what means "gifted prodigy" at age 2 means simply "smart" at age 18. Not only that, but his girlfriend Katherine just dumped him. In his lifetime, Colin has dated 19 girls named Katherine - never Kathy, never Catherine, always Katherine - and been dumped by every single one.
Stuck in that between-time, between boy and man, between high school and college, and positively heartbroken, he goes on a road trip with his best (and only) friend, the blunt and unabashed Hassan. They end up in Carver County, Tennessee, in a little place called Gutshot. There, they meet a kind girl named Lindsey Lee Wells, and her mother, who opens her home to the two boys.
Colin wants to have a Eureka moment, to make an amazing discovery. He also wants something more personal: to matter. When he vocalizes this, things change for him. He changes. This means that when his Eureka moment does occur, it signifies something other than what he predicted. And that's a good thing.
The same can be said for this book. The book jacket summary and title may make readers initially assume that the story will detail each of Colin's relationships in turn. Instead, they are anecdotes that he shares, stories that he tells, memories that he has. They don't fuel the story; they fuel the character. In other words, this book moves beyond what readers expect to find, and impresses them and surprises them in new ways.
This is not unlike Lindsey Lee, the girl in Gutshot, the self-proclaimed chameleon who changes how she sounds and how she acts depending on who she is talking to at the time. She never wants to leave her small town, yet she seems more worldly than Colin. She acts tough and thinks she's the opposite of Colin, but the characters learn that they have more in common than either of them could have imagined.
Fans of John Green's Printz Award-winning novel Looking for Alaska will not be disappointed by his sophomore effort. Though the stories themselves are vastly different, with Abundance being much lighter in tone than Alaska, both novels boast intelligent writing and memorable characters.
An Abundance of Katherines is more than heartache and theorems. Colin asks if love is graphable, and he finds out that life is unpredictable. What really matters? How can a person matter? Whether or not your name is Katherine, pick up this book, and Colin will share his discoveries with you.
on March 4, 2014
I borrowed this book twice from the library, but while I typically enjoy the 'simple yet real' plots, wit and sarcasm of John Green's books on LIFE, this particular one did not hold my interest. In hindsight, I believe I did not connect with any of the characters, and I found their conversation and quirks uninteresting. I had to make the painful decision of not finishing it (@ the 35-40% mark). This is a rare moment for me, given that I am a dedicated believer of "closing the books".
For closure purposes, I read the Wikipedia summary, and am able to live with the fact that I did not miss anything huge - and that the overall emphasis of the book is that connected relationships are essential to peace and happiness.
Some readers will connect with this book... and there are the few that won't. I am among the few outliers.
on October 10, 2013
I love to read. And I have this issue with not finishing books. In my life, I think there have been 5 books that I've started and never finished. I think this might end up being number 6.
The main character, Colin, has a type - as many people do. However, his "type" is literary - that is to say, his "type" is girls named Katherine. By the start of the story, he has been dumped by 19 Katherines. He says in a couple of places that they dumped him because they just didn't like him. I can understand; I don't like him either. He's whiny, insecure, and self-absorbed. He's obsessed with "mattering" to the point that he ignores people and doesn't actually live his life. He seems to desperately want to matter, but has NO confidence with which to make an impression on anyone - constantly asking his girlfriend (or ex, as the case may be) if she still loves him, and insisting that she doesn't understand him, for instance. Annoying.
Which is a stark contrast to the other characters in the book. Such as Hassan, who has no ambition and seems content to live with his parents forever, never go to college, and let his rich dad pay for his life. And Lindsey, for another example, who refuses to leave Gutshot, TN and do something with her life for fear of something bad happening. While both of these people at least cultivate relationships while they're content to do nothing.
So Colin gets dumped by Katherine the 19th, and his friend Hassan takes him on a road trip. They end up in Gutshot, TN, which is apparently the middle of nowhere where nothing ever happens - a great setting choice for a novel - and they decide to stay there (Again, a wonderful plot decision). At 18 or 19 or whatever age Colin is, he's all freaked out that he's past his prime (since he was a child prodigy) and has missed his chance to matter. So he's working on this one last-ditch-attempt at mattering, which is to figure out a way to graphically/mathematically predict the course of a relationship. While the math was kept relatively light, I did find myself skipping over a couple of paragraphs. Because... well... it's been a long time since my last math class and to be honest, I didn't follow it. To Green's credit, he saves detailed analysis of the math for an appendix entry rather than bogging down the novel with it further. But in a book that I'm already struggling to read, and already disliking every character that's introduced, the addition of math and repetitive anagramming really just isn't helping - and I'm not a math or anagram hater; I loved my math classes in school, it's just been a while, and I love word puzzles.
I'm clearly in the minority with my opinion on this book, given the other reviews, but I'm really bummed out about this book. All of it together (boring setting, slow plot, annoying characters, math, anagrams, more annoying characters)... I just can't get into it.. The thing that gets me is that I've read several of John Green's books. He knows how to hold his reader's attention, create intrigue and even write annoying yet likable characters. He knows how to write entertaining road-trips (like in Paper Towns). He knows how to create a beginning that sucks you into the story, and how to write a plot that moves and entertains. But I'm not seeing that here. I'm grateful this wasn't my first Green or I might not have read more.
I'm sure that the story gets to a point where there's a moral and maybe the main character learns to be content and connect with others and whatnot. And maybe even some other cool stuff. But I just can't find anything redeemable enough to hold on to to propel me through the rest of it, and I don't like the characters enough to spend hours with them in order to see them grow.
Personally, I'd skip this one and pick up another John Green instead.
on July 27, 2015
I have a deep love for John Green's writing style in general. I read the Fault in Our Stars as it was picking up speed among my peers, and loved it. But I don't tend to adore sad books, so I stayed away from most of his others.
This book is not a sad one. This book is, at times, slightly infuriating—the main character's need for glory, and his continuous love for the last Katherine get a bit annoying, to say the least—but was well worth the read. It ended on a hopeful note.
My main complaint is the use of the word "fug" as a replacement for a curse. It is eventually explained, but annoyed me somewhat every time I read it.
There is some more mature language, so be aware of that if that turns you off of books. It's fairly infrequent, though, as I recall.
Overall, a lovely book, which left me thinking and feeling long after it ended. I would recommend it to anyone.
on September 11, 2014
Saying John Green is a great writer is to say that Taco Bell serves great Mexican food. We understand that the quality of the food may be sub par, but still for many it can provide a satisfying eating experience. I understand that Green is the most popular teen novelist around right now and that many people adore his books, however the only resemblance to Taco Bell this book has is the after effects and the horrible smells that come from one's bathroom after digesting it. Likewise, after reading this so called novel, it would be a normal reaction for one to be disgusted and send this piece of doodoo where it belongs, flushed down the toilet.
To start out we have a child prodigy named Colin who obviously is very intelligent (any reader of Green novels will notice all of his protagonists and other characters we are supposed to root for are always smarter than all the other characters and somehow deeper). His best friend, following this theme, is also extremely intelligent. The "witty" banter between these two is unfunny at best, completely unrealistic when worst. It simply does not sound like teenagers, or anybody for that reason, talking to one another. Staying with how unrealistic the characters are did i mention the fact that our main character has dated 18 girls all named Katherine? He won't date Catherine spelled with a 'C' because, well who the hell knows. Either way, this fact is made all the more ridiculous because of his social ineptitude especially when it comes to talking to girls. His lack of skills with women is a theme explored in the book and if the fact that he has met 18 girls named Katherine in the first place isn't unbelievable enough to the reader, the fact that this boy could have dated all of them surely is.
But an unbelievable foundation for the book isn't necessarily the end of the world, though it is when Green writes his characters and plot in such a way it is hard to not actively despise the novel itself and the author for subjecting the world to its banality. The main character here is smarter than you and he knows it. Aren't those the kind of people we all just love to hang out with? One would assume that he would learn his lesson and be humbled by it, but nope! Nothing happens in this sense, and it is almost as if Green intended this smug superiority to be somehow respected or liked by the reader. It is truly baffling, but there is no other logic I could fathom to justify the way this theme is presented here. And since this is a John Green novel and the self-indulgent intelligent ones reign supreme (a hint of the author's personality shown here) we also get to see the dumb kids. It would be extremely difficult for Green to portray our two non intelligent characters as any more routine and lifeless. What we get is a jock that is good looking, muscular, and as Green seems to imply, if one is any of these things they are in turn brainless. The other is a beautiful girl who you guessed it has absolutely no brain, and who would've guessed it, they hook up and cheat on one another's partner, because ,as is made clear by Green, the beautiful will sleep around and use their bodies because they lack any real intrinsic depth. Now it is rare to meet people that are truly stupid in life, everyone has their merits and strengths, but Green seems to portray intelligence as the supreme quality a human being can have, while making beauty and strength seem superficial and meaningless. And while we could always use the reminder that beauty is more import inwardly, any responsible adult that is writing a novel for children should acknowledge that every individual has his strengths and weaknesses, and not show our more pleasant physical qualities to be purely for show and lack all substance (quite like Green's writing). Not all pretty girls are dumb and not all athletic guys are idiots. This seems obvious, but apparently not to Mr. Green who seems to either be pandering to his likely audience, those teens that are social outcasts and hate the 'popular kids', or to be justifying his own lack of self worth he felt as a teen, or possibly still does, by showing that a strong intellect is ultimately all that matters in the world.
There really is nothing likable about the book and it is one of life's great mysteries how someone could enjoy it. The characters, the themes, the plot are all so tremendously unlikable that it truly deserves the spot on anyone who suffers through the read's list of worst books of all time, and this is without mentioning the skill of Green's writing which simply leaves much to be desired.
I finish my rant with the begging whoever reads this to pick up the book and read the final two chapters. the formulaic nonsense meant to be suspenseful and surprising is so tremendously poor it is quite the marvel. The cheesy one liners, the sentimentality, the pointlessness of every word Green offers you is sure to stick with the reader long after they read it, wondering how the hell has this book gotten any sort of earthly praise.
on March 12, 2014
The year after high school, Colin is looking for three things: a Katherine, a workable theorem, and a best friend. Sounds intriguing, right? Too bad the premise of An Abundance of Katherines is far-fetched and its execution is sometimes dull. As for the main characters, when they aren’t boring themselves, they’re kind of obnoxious. There are some bright spots in this Printz honor book by John Green, but sadly they are far too few.
The premise is that Colin has been dumped by nineteen Katherines. Hence, the title of the book. And so now Colin wants to find another Katherine. Not a Kathy. Or a Katerina. A Katherine. I’m not sure why. To get dumped again? How does anyone even know that many Katherines? It’s a silly premise, although the idea of being dumped multiple times is in itself a serious one. Unfortunately, it’s also an idea almost as old as creation, which means I am only going to read two hundred pages about the woes of being dumped if there’s more to the story.
Green does attempt to integrate other subplots, such as: a road trip, an unexpected job of interviewing townsfolk, and a new love interest. Unfortunately, none of these work well enough. Colin and his friend make a detour to a small town in Tennessee known as Gutshot, where they are inexplicably invited by strangers to stay for dinner and are then hired for a summer job. The latter could conceivably make for an interesting twist, but it ends up feeling like a string of haphazard anecdotes. As for the new love interest, it’s a cliché idea. Also, Lindsey feels like a milder version of Miles’s flame in Green’s Looking for Alaska. Plus, she’s no Katherine. :-)
Speaking of reinvented characters, Colin feels a tad bit like main character Miles from Looking for Alaska, in that he’s a self-absorbed nerd. The two even have a geeky quirk: Miles loved to memorize famous last words while Colin gets a kick out of turning names into anagrams. Of course, if Miles and Alaska worked once, why not recycle them in a second book? As long as Green can be original about it, the more power to him. Except for one problem. I don’t like Colin. Oh sure, both he and Miles are searching for the meaning of life. However, Colin’s search seems far shallower. If he can find a theorem that will predict the outcome of dating, he believes this will give him a place in the world. Whatever. Admittedly, I did at times recognize some of Colin’s traits in the likeable nerds in my life, which made me somewhat empathetic. Unfortunately, he often bordered on being pretentious. Whether this was a deliberate choice by Green or not, I don’t know.
How to respond to Green’s characters was a problem for me throughout the book. Am I supposed to laugh at or feel sympathy for Colin’s narcissism? What am I supposed to think about his best friend, an overweight Muslim teen? He’s overweight but seems comfortable with his size, and he claims to be religious but doesn’t mind lying, drinking, and feeling up a girl. Am I supposed to like him or not? Lindsey is one of the other significant characters, whom eventually it seems we’re supposed to view as mixed-up as Alaska from Green’s first book. Yet for the most part, she just seems like a bored small-town girl who enjoys going steady. With a guy whose name coincidentally is also Colin. Last, there are the people whom Colin and friends interview. At times, they come across as stereotypical small-town hicks. Are we supposed to like them, or not? I couldn’t decide.
There were a few bright spots. Ironically, Colin’s flashbacks to his long history of Katherines actually made for a more interesting read than Colin’s day-to-day encounters. Also, the scene in which Colin and Hassan try to fend off a wild hog is hilarious enough that I almost want to recommend An Abundance of Katherines. Unfortunately, too much of the story is overly flippant and uninspired for me to like.
on September 11, 2014
A strange plot, not very likable characters, and many, long, boring passages. Maybe this was supposed to be a complete fable, or a metaphor for something deep. Well, if it was, I completely missed it. Colin is a child prodigy who has been dumped by 19 girlfriends, all named Katherine. Now I knew that coming into the book and shame on me for not casting it aside right then and there but I'm a sucker for road trip stories and this one started out that way.....but not for long. Colin and buddy Hassan wind up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where Colin meets a charming young miss and her rube boyfriend, also Colin. No, the girl's name is not Katherine. Then not much happens for 150 pages or so. Thankfully, this is a very slim book and after another 50 pages give or take, it ends with not much of a climax. Not cute, not charming, not interesting.