An Abundance of Katherines is another book that I hesitate to even review, because there have been so many positive reviews written already. Written by recent Printz winner (for Looking for Alaska, which I haven't written) John Green, An Abundance of Katherines has been nominated for the Cybils award for Young Adult Fiction. It's 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.
Book: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Original Publication Date: September 21, 2006
Age Range: Young adult
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Sara's Hold Shelf, Shaken & Stirred, LibraryAnne, Kids Lit, propernoun.net, Bildungsroman, Big A little a, and bookshelves of doom
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.