on September 3, 2015
I love John Green. He is one of the greats of these modern times and he is going to be remembered decades and decades down the road. That being said, 'An Abundance of Katherines' isn't my favorite book of his. Is it good? Yes. Is it as good as 'The Fault in Our Stars' and 'Looking for Alaska'? No. In my opinion, it lacks that characterization that made AFIOS and LFA. I'm sorry, Colin, but you kinda annoyed me the majority of the book and I could see why all the Katherines dumped you.
I think the reason I didn't love this book is that I have put John Green on a pedestal and this book didn't measure up. Their are certainly worse books out there. I promise. It's a great premise and very imaginative like John Green always is. But it's not my favorite book and I likely won't re-read.
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!
on October 8, 2015
I think I made the mistake of becoming a John Green fan by reading The Fault in Our Stars first. After that, I knew I would read anything that came from his mind, including tweets that are limited to 140 characters. He's brilliant, no question.
An Abundnce of Katherines was one of his earlier books, and after reading his most recent first, it shows. He's grown a lot as a writer. The book reads well, it does pull you in as you hope any book you begin will, but it's also predictable. The predictably is clever, and all things John Green, but I felt like I've read the idea of this story before, only by different authors and maybe not as intelligently written.
Some of that may have to do with the mathematical thereoms that are thrown into the story. Although it made it interesting, it was distracting as I've never been much of a math person.
It was easy to see that in true John Green fashion, he went to great extents in writing this book. He did his homework and enlisted those who had knowledge of things he didn't.
If you're a John Green fan, and if you are reading this I'm sure you are, I would suggest it, but I wouldn't expect it to leave you the way The Fault in Our Stars, Looking For Alaska or Paper Towns did.
on January 19, 2014
I love John Green, and probably have tremendously high expectations of his books. This one is my least favorite of his. It's good, don't get me wrong, and the characters are as compelling as ever, but I thought the pacing of this story was very slow. If this would have been a different author's work I probably would have rated it higher, but in my opinion it didn't have that same John Green magic.
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 November 23, 2015
[copied from my Goodreads review)
Was on the fence between 3* and 4* and I think the disappointing appendix caused it to drop down to 3*.
I'm a huge fan of John Green having already read The Fault in Our Stars (5*) and Paper Towns (4*) before this one. I follow him on Twitter, listen to the podcast he does with his brother, and even enjoy watching his 15-minute long AFC Wimbly Wombly YouTube videos where he just talks while playing FIFA 14. But An Abundance of Katherines feels like a lesser novel than the previous two I've read, and that may be simply because it was his second novel and I'm reading them all in reverse order.
AAoK tells the story of Colin Singleton, a child prodigy who, as he is approaching adulthood, comes to the realization that there's no such thing as adult prodigy. His ability to anagram any phrase instantly, his voracity for reading and learning, even his polyglotism will all be less and less impressive as he grows up. And so he begins to worry about what his lasting mark on society will be.
On top of all that, he's dated (and been dumped by) 19 different Katherines. No Kates or Kathryns or Catherines; for some reason, he's gone out with 19 Katherines and has always been dumped by them. He eventually has a "Eureka moment" and realizes he may be able to be remembered if he can mathematically show why these relationships didn't work out. He starts off with some simple equations and eventually works on something only math geniuses could comprehend or plot in an attempt to show how long a relationship will last and who will dump whom. If he could only make this equation work, maybe he can see a future where he and Katherine XIX would get back together.
All of this math occurs away from home (it wouldn't be a John Green novel without teenagers going on a road trip away from their parents). He and his best friend, Hassan (an overweight, Muslim slacker one year older than Colin, who'd rather sit at home and watch Judge Judy than apply to college) drive off and eventually come across Gutshot, TN—home of the final burial place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (you know the guy whose assassination prompted WWI?). Here, the two meet Lindsey Lee Wells (it wouldn't be a John Green novel without a young girl with three names)—convenience store worker extraordinaire & Ferdinand grave tour guide. She figures mattering (or ever leaving Gutshot) is overrated and is more than happy to grow old and die in her little town, a nice foil to Colin.
Lindsey's mother, Hollis, runs a factory that basically only produces tampon strings and also employs basically the whole town. She hires the boys to join her daughter in a new mission—interviewing people who work or have worked at the factory to create an oral history of Gutshot. The boys agree and the three of them have some wacky adventures. Colin continues to work on his Theorem, Hollis meets a hot chubby chaser who makes him second guess his Muslim beliefs, and Lindsey acts all manic pixie dream girly, all while dating TOC (The Other Colin), your standard captain of the football team popular guy.
Whereas Green's previous (to me but later in, you know, real time) novels TFiOS and PT both have some deeper characters and better stories, AAoK was lacking. Sure it made me chuckle but Colin was overly annoying, Lindsey overly MPDG, and Hassan overly funny about his weight. Everything felt just a little too unrealistic (19 Katherines?! Unintentionally?!?) and parts of it were kind of boring. The will-they-or-won't-they between Colin and Lindsey was cute but predictable. The main thing this book had going for it were the footnotes used throughout (reminded me of all the great footnotes in A Selective History of Max Werner) and one of the footnotes promised an appendix that would explain the math behind Colin's Theorem.
Well, I guess the appendix was written for people like John Green who aren't good at math. It describes what an equation is and how you'd graph one but doesn't get into the actual math behind this:
There's no talk about if this equation is graphing in radians or degrees. There's no talk about what the rightmost part (the one with the absolute value) is doing there. I was a math major and I'm trying to "see" what this is doing and I cannot grasp parts of it and when I try to graph it, I get errors with certain values of H. I was hoping the appendix would be an actual mathematical paper going into how the mathematician behind this equation came up with it. Sure it produces a few nice graphs, but I was hoping to see all 19 graphed out. We got the stories of all 19 Katherines, but I wanted to see the math of all 19 Katherines!
The appendix was a HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT (which anagrams to UNHAPPIEST DEMOTING which is what happened with my 3.5* falling to a 3*)!
I'm sure I'll still get around to reading Looking for Alaska someday (probably closer to when that movie is coming out, but I'm in no real hurry any longer. Maybe this book was just a sophomore slump..
on April 10, 2015
I'm sure you've heard the saying, "A picture paints a thousand words," right? While that's certainly true, I'd say that the opposite works just as well, too: A thousand words can paint a picture. And this works in many different ways - characters and worlds come to life by the simple act of writing. But behind the layer of the story, there's the unseen mastermind behind it all, and that's the one and only author. The pages upon pages of words don't just paint an otherworldly mural. They give us a glimpse into the writer's life and personality, too. I finally picked up John Green's "An Abundance of Katherines" one day after craving a smart, fun read, and found myself giggling at the ridiculous amount of smart-aleck humour packed into the two hundred or so pages. When I finished the book just a few days later, I couldn't help but think, "Man, I'd like to get coffee with this John Green guy." And if that isn't a sign of some real good writing, I don't know what is.
Before I get to the writing itself, however, I think the storyline of "An Abundance of Katherines" merits some unadulterated attention. In a nutshell, Colin Singleton is an anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy who has the misfortune of only ever falling for girls by the name of - you guessed it- Katherine. When he's dumped for the nineteenth time by K-19, Colin embarks on a road trip with his overweight, smart-aleck best friend riding shotgun, with no destination in mind but forward to anywhere with no Katherines. Being the freakishly smart prodigy he is, Colin is determined to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which is basically a geeky way to say "math formula to prove when he'll get dumped"...which sounds pretty sad, if I put it that way. The premise of the novel sounds a little wacky, but that at least puts it on the safe side of the "fun but slightly unrealistic/realistic but boring" divide that a lot of contemporary novels find themselves straddling. Trust me when I say that "An Abundance of Katherines" is both fun and, strangely enough, realistic. At least, I can believe that there's a skinny smart guy with an IQ of 160 roaming the country (though 19 Katherines might be a bit of a stretch).
One of the major reasons why the crazy storyline succeeds is the dynamic cast of characters in the novel. This isn't to say that they were exactly likable, though. I do have to admit that Colin wasn't exactly the most endearing of characters, given his propensity to whine... a lot. He basically spends most of the story talking about the great hole in his stomach after being dumped by K-19, and about how he's not a genius, but a prodigy (apparently there's a difference). While I completely understand the whole teenage angst, quarter-life crisis thing, it came to a point where Colin just wasn't likable. In fact, if he was a real person, I probably wouldn't want to hang out with him. That being said, his characterization is rendered somewhat more appropriate when you remember that this is the point of a lot of YA contemporary novels: they're about learning about yourself and growing up, which I think that Colin does at the very end of the novel. Putting our protagonist aside for a bit, I found myself being pretty ambivalent toward Lindsey. She's undoubtedly a complex, intriguing character, though to me, she fell into the character trope of the complicated, hard-to-get female counterpart with emotional baggage. The one character I definitely did find likable was Hassan, whose knee-slapping humour got me laughing out loud a lot of the time.
Now, of course, the writing. This might be related to the portrayals of the characters and the plot of the novel, but Mr. Green's writing is insane. It remains smooth throughout the novel, and is saturated with an intense dose of wit. What I think is especially great is that he manages to strike a balance between humour and narration, because there are many cases when the story gets lost in overly-insistent attempts at being funny. The footnotes were, at times, a little too much, but they added dimension (and very interesting historical, scientific and mathematical tidbits) to the narrative. However, one thing that didn't succeed as well was the actual math of Colin's Katherine Theorem. While the narrator does give the readers a pass by saying that we aren't meant to understand everything, instead providing a very comprehensive appendix of the math behind the theorem at the end of the book, the dialogue and the narration often get bogged down in the mathematical explanations. Maybe it's because I'm in no way a math genius, but toning all of the functions and equations and all that down a notch would've helped with the flow.
All in all, "An Abundance of Katherines" is a fun read that packs a serious funny-punch. While it may not be my favourite John Green book to date, it's still worth checking out if you're in for some light-hearted laughs or, you know, if you're a geek looking to tackle some math problems.
on September 6, 2012
So, this book was assigned to my kids for summer reading. Actually, it was the book the school chose to assign to ALL the students. I'm guessing, that is about 2000 students. With that many locals reading the book, it seemed like a good choice for me, too.
I opened the book in the morning, and just turned pages all day, reading until the end. Good book. But several times, I was jarred from my reverie by poor editing--hence the 4 stars. Actually, I'd give it 3.5 if I could, but rounded up instead of down, due to good story. Amazon.com suggests the appropriate age for this book is 12 and up. Given the amount of sex concepts, I'd say at least 13, and for most kids, 14 or 15.
Lots of reviews talk about the story, I'll describe a few examples of editing concerns.
Early on, I was frustrated that Hassan's parents are shown telling Hassan to call home while he is away, but he is never shown calling home once. Story should have avoided having the father tell him to call.
The author obviously fell prey to Green's desire to share and preach little bits of random information. Sharing information enough to suit the story, fine. But he overdid it. Two examples: The comment about how much water to drink overshot the mark, and became preachy. The shower curtain info was interesting, but was obviously shoehorned into the story.
Anagrams play a significant role in this book. But the author has to reach so far to get the right anagrams sometimes, that he messes with the language to make them work right. Generally, Green's pros flow so well that every time I found the phrasing stilted, I was surprised. And then my surprise turned to momentary irritation, when it was invariably followed by an anagram. Like YRS FOREVER.
For some reason, there is a minimally discussed dog in the story. It was not well described when introduced, stuck in oddly later, and never used for anything that moved the story along. It didn't seem to represent anything. I couldn't figure out why it was included at all, and I kept waiting for it. Distracting.
Finally, I sincerely wish the author had researched the product made at the factory better. His description of the product simply isn't accurate, and I couldn't help feeling that a female author would never have made the error. Perhaps Green needed a product, and just had trouble coming up with one. This one had a humor factor, so he used it. But the description of the factory and the product were jarring for me, because they didn't make sense, in a story that is pretty reality-based.
There are more, but this is certainly more than enough for a review!
Again, I did really like the book, despite its flaws. Given that other reviewers have said "Looking for Alaska" is better, I am interested in reading that one next.
on April 12, 2016
I can't help it. I just love John Green's characters and their voices. He has the best way of describing EVERYTHING. And the footnotes are hilarious and awesome.
Narrator's voice is awesome
Characters are well-rounded and funny
Ending has expected and unexpected parts
Excellent last line
Fun to read
I wish he'd resolved one of the issues that arose in the book, but it's realistic that he didn't, so I can't be too upset by it
It's full of weird facts, which don't bother me but might bother some people
Colin thinks way too much....and in weird ways (but normal and expected given his character)
Honestly, I'm struggling to come up with cons...
I really hope my books are as cleverly written as his.