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 December 10, 2006
An Abundance of Katherines is about a boy named Colin who has just graduated from high school, and is experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis. You see, in his youth, Colin was a prodigy. And now, at 18, he feels washed up, having not lived up to his potential, not become a full-fledged genius. To top that off, he's just been dumped by his 19th Katherine. Colin only dates girls named Katherine, and has had 19 relationships of varying length and depth with Katherines since early elementary school. This most recent one lasted nearly a year, before K-19 broke Colin's heart.
To take Colin's mind off of his problems, his best friend Hassan proposes that the two friends go on a road trip. They make it as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where, in part due to Colin's celebrity as a prodigy, they are offered a summer job doing video interviews. They become particular friends with Lindsey Lee Wells, daughter of eccentric local factory owner Hollis, and move into the gigantic bright pink Wells home. The rest of the novel recounts Colin's history with the many Katherines, in flashbacks, interspersed with Colin and Hassan's adventures in Gutshot.
This isn't a very plot-driven novel. I found it to be not such a good bedtime reading book, because I would fall asleep. However, I loved the writing. John Green has a gift for the quirky yet memorable turn of phrase. Even using restraint, I ended up with seven passages flagged for possible quotation. For example:
"Colin's mother shook her head rhythmically, like a disapproving metronome." (page 12);
"And so the periodically incontinent prodigy ended up in a small windowless office on the South Side" (page18); and
"Maybe if a guy is actually, literally, on fire, he won't be thinking about hooking up. But that's about it. Whereas girls are very fickle about the business of kissing. Sometimes they want to make out; sometimes they don't. They're an impenetrable fortress of unknowability, really." (page 76)
I especially loved Colin's friend Hassan. He's a chubby Arabic guy, with a sense of humor, and he's quick to point out when Colin is going off on a tangent that's "not interesting." I really think that everyone should have a friend to tell them that. I actually think that Colin is borderline on the Asperger's Syndrome scale. He needs to be taught what other people find interesting. Here is the quotation:
""Not interesting," Hassan said. Hassan's not-interestings had helped Colin figure out what other people did and did not enjoy hearing about. Colin had never gotten that before Hassan, because everyone else either humored or ignored him. Or, in the case of Katherines, humored then ignored. Thanks to Colin's collected list of things that weren't interesting, he could hold a halfway normal conversation." (page 26). There is a footnote containing a partial list of not-interesting things, like mitosis, baroque architecture, and "the significant role that salt has played in human history."
And, for another window into Hassan's sense of humor, this is his explanation for why Hollis offered he and Colin jobs:
""She wants to make me happy. We fatties have a bond, dude. It's like a Secret Society. We've got all kinds of s*** you don't know about. Handshakes, special fat people dances--we got these secret fugging lairs in the center of the earth and we go down there in the middle of the night when all the skinny kids are sleeping and eat cake and friend chicken and s***. Why d'you think Hollis is still sleeping, kafir? Because we were up all night in the secret lair injecting butter frosting into our veins. She's given us jobs because a fatty always trusts another fatty."" (page 72)
I like reading a novel that's not afraid a) to have a character who is smart, and b) to include math. I love that the title on the cover is formatted as a formula. It's also interesting to see Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey evolve over the course of their summer together. I think that even non-prodigies will be able to relate to the unique problems of at least one of the three teenagers, and will perhaps be inspired to change. And if not, they'll still have a good time reading this extremely funny book.
This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on December 4, 2006.
on September 21, 2006
If you had the opportunity to devise a theorem that could correctly predict the outcome of a romantic relationship, would you do it? If it worked, would you use it? Can it even be done? This is the problem plaguing Colin Singleton, recent high school graduate, nearly-former child prodigy, hopeful genius. Colin, you see, has a significant problem. He falls in love quite easily, which in and of itself isn't such a bad thing. The fact that all of his loves, nineteen of them to be exact, have been named Katherine can even be explained away by some form of twisted scientific method. What can't be explained, though, is why Colin has been dumped by all nineteen of those Katherines.
When he's dumped by the love of his life, Katherine XIX, he finds himself in a bad place. He can no longer call himself a child prodigy, since he's graduated from high school. He's not a genius, because he's never come up with anything that will change the world. There's an empty place inside of him where his latest Katherine's love used to live, and he doesn't know what to do with himself. Until Hassan Harbish (Muslim, but not a terrorist) devises a way to get Colin out of his funk--a road trip. With no destination in mind, the two set off in The Hearse, Colin's car, and go where the road leads them.
Where it leads them is a small town called Gutshot, Tennessee, where Colin gets the urge to see the supposed grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It's also where the two meet Lindsey Lee Wells and her mother, Hollis. Not to mention where they get to live in a giant Pepto Bismol-pink house on a hill, interview employees of a factory that makes tampon strings, and eat Monster Thickburgers at the local Hardees.
It's also the place where Colin decides to finish the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. Assign numerical value to different variables, plot it on a graph, and you'll be able to predict how long a relationship will last--and who will be the dumper, and who will be the dumpee. Except Colin forgot some pertinent information, like chance, and distorted memories, and the fact that love is never predictable. As Colin and Hassan learn a few things about life in the small town of Gutshot, we get to follow their journey of learning to grow up, to make a name for yourself, and how to matter as a person.
I loved AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, even more than Mr. Green's previous book, Looking for Alaska. That book won the prestigious Michael L. Printz award, and I won't be surprised if this book is nominated, as well. This story is funny, poignant, and informative. For example, if I hadn't read AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES I would never have known that:
1) Fetor hepaticus is a symptom of late-stage liver failure where your breath literally smells like a rotting corpse.
2) The junior senator from New Hampshire in 1873 was Bainbridge Wadleigh.
3) There is absolutely no scientific proof that drinking eight glasses of water a day will improve your health.
4) Dingleberries can be anagrammed into see inbred girl; lie breeds grin; leering debris; greed be nil, sir; be idle re. rings; ringside rebel; and residing rebel.
5) Nikola Tesla did a lot for electricity before Thomas Edison came along and stole some of his ideas, and he also loved pigeons.
6) I still suck at math.
Order this book today. It's great, you'll love it, and you'll actually learn stuff. Three for the price of one!
I should preface this by saying that as 30something adult, I don't seek out "YA" (young adult, aka teen) fiction for my leisure reading. In the case of this book, I didn't realize it was a YA title until I was already hooked, and since I'm a fan of quirky coming-of-age novels, it pretty much fit right into my comfort zone. The story is about recent high-school graduate Colin. A former child prodigy, he is now merely another smart teenager with underdeveloped social skills and a yearning to leave his intellectual mark on the world. With the summer between high school and college to kill, he's also heartbroken because his girlfriend, Katherine, just dumped him. Actually, she's the nineteenth Katherine to sever relations with Colin (hence the title) -- although one of the book's enduring mysteries is how someone as neurotic as Colin manages to have relations with 3, let alone 19 girls, whatever they may be named.
In any event, Colin is fortunate to posses a roly-poly sidekick/best buddy named Hassan, who promptly prescribes a road trip as the cure for his malaise. Couch potato Hassan provides much-needed comic relief with his blunt talk, tough love, and love for bad daytime TV. It's also nice to see an Arab-American character in such a role. The road trip takes them to a small town in Tennessee, where they stumble into jobs and a place to stay for the summer. They also luck into friendship with a cool local girl named Lindsey and spend a good deal of time hanging out with her and her Abercrombie-wearing friends. Meanwhile, Colin is hard at work trying to figure out the variables needed to plug into a mathematical formula which will graph the rise and fall of any relationship. This provides the excuse to learn about the 19 Katherines, although thankfully just enough to help the reader understand how they affected Colin.
As the summer progresses, the story unravels much as one might expect, with the notable exception of an unlikely hookup between Hassan and another character. Lindsey naturally turns out to have hidden depths, and despite the expected heart-warming developments at the end, the story kind of peters out without the closure one might expect. Overall it's a worthwhile read, although it's not a particularly challenging story and Colin is simultaneously too self-pitying and too handy with the ladies to be a truly sympathetic protagonist. Some of Green's stylistic tics work, such as the many footnotes, but the mathematical relationship formula felt kind of gimmicky. Still, this is the second YA novel by Green, and it's definitely enjoyable enough to make me think about seeking out the first.
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.