Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

you can tell when i write a long review that i love the book, because i can't stop myself from gushing.  

title:  An Abundance of Katherines

author: John Green

pages: 272

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0142410707

buy it: Amazon

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of dry British comedies like Black Books, Spaced, or Doctor Who.  Those looking for a younger (geekier) Jack Kerouac adventure.  Readers of good writing.  Nerds, losers, and the brokenhearted.

Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart
When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

the basics
John Green strikes again.  I fell in love with him after A Fault in Our Stars and he doesn't fail to impress.  Katherines has all the snark and wit of Fault without the heavy subject matter, making this one a lighter, wackier read.  Yes, I said wacky.  It's over-the-top but believable, ramping up the humor without making it a complete eye-rolling exaggeration.  Colin is delightfully clueless; Hasan, delightfully snarky; Lindsey, somewhere in between.  Green takes their brokenness to hilarious heights without cheapening their struggles. The plot is somewhat winding.  The main conflict is Colin's inner struggle with the Theorem to describe all Katherines, the discovery that will take him from washed-up prodigy to genius.  As he and Hasan bumble along one weird incident after another, we watch Colin grow and learn that life is more about Katherines, and genius.  The footnotes add to the dry tone, the perfect humor for any geek or fan of good writing.

plot . 5/5
There isn't much of a plot, per se.  Colin gets broken up with and has a meltdown.  Hassan takes him on a road trip.  In the midst of looking for the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in a tiny Tennesee town, they're taken in by small-town-smartie Lindsey and her pink-obsessed mom.  Who got rich owning a factory that makes tampon strings.  Cue hilarity.  It's kind of episodic, with the boys pulled along through each weird adventure: grave-seeking, hog hunting, interviewing oldies about the town's quaint history.  What ties it together are the relationships of the three main characters and their interplay with the people in their lives.  And of course, the flashbacks to each failed Katherine.  It's part memoir, part math book, and it reads smooth and easy like a summer tale, rather than a thriller.

concept . 5/5
Did I mention that I love John Green?  He has the power to exaggerate something to the point of hysterics while still making it so authentically emotionally real.  A boy broken up with by nineteen Katherines is not your average teen contemporary.  Now make that boy a whiny prodigy obsessed with anagramming.  Who's got himself a summer job interviewing tampon factory workers for a woman in a pink mansion.  Who's trying to create a mathematical equation to predict the dumper and dumpee in any relationship.  It's ridiculous--which makes it the perfect background for some very deep issues of life and love, that could easily be cliched, but aren't.

characters . 5/5
Just as crazy as the concept, and fascinating, and real.  Colin is a whiny overly-smart overly-clueless underly-confident child prodigy who's afraid he hit his prime in high school.  An eighteen-year-old going through a midlife crisis?  Already endearing.  You just want to hug him or slap him, which is the best kind of character, really.  It means you care.  Hassan is a delightful contradiction--a swearing, irreverently reverent Muslim jokester who covers his insecurities in angry humor and sees more in the world than a prodigy like Colin could ever fathom.  Then bring in Lindsey, a smart, lost small-town girl who's afraid to matter.  Together, they play off of each other's issues and bring to light a lot of interesting things about the way we interact and what we want out of life.  And of course, the Katherines.  We get a little vignette on each one but really, they exist to show us Colin's inner world.

style . 5/5
Green is a fantastic writer.  He focuses as much on style as on story, creating works of art that few popular authors can claim.  In keeping with Colin's analytical (and brokenhearted) mind, his writing in this story is precise, a little maudlin, and a lot cluttered up with footnotes, wry humor, and math.  It's so dry you could burn your tongue on it and I loved every inch.  Except maybe the appendix full of math.  Because math makes me cry.

mechanics . 5/5
The footnotes are perfect.  Unlike the laborious ones in David Foster Wallace, these are a cute way to show the crazy workings of Colin's head.  The other thing, which at first I thought I'd be railing about, was the use of "fugging" instead of the obvious alternative.  It drove me crazy at first until they actually addressed it in the story, and then it became a funny and cute characterization of Colin and Hassan.

take home message
A brokenhearted boy's journey to solve the mystery behind getting dumped, and what he finds instead.

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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