Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Author: John Green
Publisher: Puffin Books Publishing
Date Published: September 21, 2006
Number of Pages: 256

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” John Green

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”
John Green

Ever since reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars I’ve become, well a little obsessed with him. Unhealthy? Yes. Worth it? I think so.  So for my first John Green follow-up I chose An Abundance of Katherines. I was inspired to read it after having seen it repeatedly listed on several different blogs and lists of best/important YA novels.

Child prodigy/not genius Colin Singleton is great at languages, he has an impeccable memory, the ability to anagram just about anything and a real knack when it comes to being dumped by girls named Katherine a feat he has achieved 19 times. His most recent dumping by Katherine XIX leaves him both heartbroken and destitute. Convinced by his overweight slacker best (and only) friend to head out on the open road, Colin finds himself in Gutshot, Tennessee where he sets out to prove a mathematical theory – one that can accurately predict who will be dumper and dumpee – thus thrusting him into the realm of genius and hopefully helping him win back K19.

The story in and of itself is a great twist on both the road trip to self-discovery theme and the breakup theme in that our protagonist, Colin is automatically made interesting by his child prodigy status, further adding to the interest is the fact that he
1. Has an obsession with the name Katherine (which no one seemed to find particular disturbing which in turn made me find it disturbing)
2. Has been dumped by 19 girls with that name

Instantly you want to know more about Colin and why Katherines keep dumping him. And without spoiling anything let me say Green is one of those authors who delivers on his promise when it comes to answers. You literally get the reason why every Katherine with a K dumped our man Colin. It’s really quite satisfying.

As important as the overall story is to a novel I always find myself focusing the most on the characters.

I have to admit that for about half of the book I couldn’t decide if I liked Colin or not. He’s kind of annoying, which I mean he knows, so the fact that he can acknowledge his own faults makes him respectable if not necessarily likeable. But as the story progressed and more of Colin’s life is revealed it becomes easier and easier to feel a certain kindness towards him. It’s not easy being an outsider. Colin is also made infinitely more enjoyable by the awesomeness of his best friend Hassan.

Hassan and Colin’s friendship was so genuine, enjoyable, and funny. The fact that Colin and Hassan don’t even need to speak to communicate with one another was such a great representation of that kind of friendship, you know the one where you speak in half sentences or without actual words and your friend still knows what you mean?  For example a conversation between my ‘hetero life mate’ (as I like to call her) and I can sound something like this:
Her: Can you grab the thingy, in the thingy with the do-dad by the whatdyacall it?
Me: The spatula? Sure.
Her: Thanks.
Everyone else: That wasn’t even English.

My point being that in general the use of humour throughout this book is so natural and realistic. And at times will actually make you laugh out loud. So extra points for that. 

Lindsey Lee Wells vs. K-19

Another thing that made me decide I did in fact like Colin Singleton was that despite his obsession with Katherines he willingly admitted – at least to himself – off the bat that Lindsey Lee Wells was kind of a big deal. Of course it annoyed me that he continued pining over K-19 (yes, yes I’m heartless I know, but he really was a sitzpinkler which for anyone wondering is a German turn of phrase for a person who sits to pee, but is used derogatorily in reference to someone being a big giant pansy.) LLW vs. K-19 reminded me of Betty and Veronica, in that you become increasingly frustrated with Colin, who is clearly the Archie character here in that he knows that Betty is fun and sweet and cool yet he continues to go after the hot but infinitely evil Veronica. The more you got to know LLW and the more you learn about K-19 and her relationship with Colin the choice becomes a no brainer, because let’s face K-19 was a bit of an…unlikeable lady, if you get my drift.

LLW however was fascinating, she was at once cool and collected, smart and tough and incredibly vulnerable. When she opens up to Colin about her “non-cool years” and her boyfriend’s, the aptly named The Other Colin or TOC, past treatment of her (the Alpo can on Valentine’s day, I think my heart may have shattered in that moment) and how she dedicated herself to becoming his girlfriend to prove I don’t know what, it was sad and strangely empowering in an almost vengeful way (“Now he’s dating that dog” Jesus girl…that’s cold.) LLW was so complete as a character a big part of me would like to read a book about her. Also, I’m beginning to wonder if the triple name for a female character is a John Green-ism (Hazel Grace Lancaster, Lindsey Lee Wells).

As the summer progresses and Colin et al interview the towns folks, discover the big secret LLW’s mums been keeping, take on a feral hog, angry hornets, and TOC (that fight scene was kind of crazy, I mean who the heck is TOC? The Incredible Hulk?) Lindsey and Colin slowly fall for each other, Hassan stops being lazy and starts to experience life and Colin makes a huge discovery. There’s a lot of growth in this book, in ways it’s quite subtle, but it’s definitely there. And its reveal is incredibly rewarding because you don’t realize how invested you’ve become in the characters until the very end.

The ending by the way kind of reminded me of the end of The Perks of Being a Wallflower not in the whole devastating secret is revealed way but more so the fact that Colin begins to accept life as it is.

In a way John Green’s books remind me of those by John Irving (The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany) in that in a Young Adult book world filled with doomed supernatural romances, crazy dictators and the children/teenagers who must work to overthrow them etc., Green writes really normal stories. This is not meant as a criticism, in fact, what makes me liken him to John Irving (one of my favourite authors) is that he has this uncanny ability to take completely normal characters, living completely normal lives and somehow make them extraordinary. Granted in the case of AAoK Colin is a child prodigy, but Green uses Colin’s intellect as a crutch, it hinders Colin in everyday life, it alienates him from his peers and ultimately leaves him lonely and needy. All feelings most of us can identify with. Also despite the breakup sorrow Green goes light on the “teenage angst” angle, instead he creates characters that demonstrate maturity and depth through understanding, humour and the connections they make with others.

An Abundance of Katherines is both a complex and simple story, it deals with relationships, friendship and growing up in a way that’s both clever and easy to identify with. The characters are unique without being unattainable, people you could see yourself hanging out with – I highly recommend it.

Next up on the reading list: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – this ones not a YA novel, but it has been likened to Gone Girl, so we’ll see how that goes. As for the continuation of my John Green obsession: Paper Towns. Exciting, I know.

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