Published September 21, 2006
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
I read this for Just a Lil Lost in a Great Book’s Brunch Book Club – check out photos of the brunch and some of our thoughts in the links above!
Colin Singleton is a child prodigy who struggles with the idea that what he’s doing matters. He’s really smart, but he still works incredibly hard at school because he believes that learning about everything might make him realize what he’s meant to do in life. As a result, Colin is not exactly Mr. Popular – he has one best friend, Hassan, a guy who is always funny and doesn’t take anything seriously in life – including the fact that he should be in college instead of watching Judge Judy marathons every day.
One of Colin’s crazy quirks is that he only dates girls named Katherine. In fact, he’s dated 18 girls named Katherine, and he’s just been dumped by the latest one. Weary and unsure of what to do with his life, he and Hassan take off on a road trip where he ends up trying to find a theorem for love, learning a lot about himself, and meeting a ton of awesome people, including one lovely, confused girl named Lindsay, her crazy mother Hollis, and a bunch of townies who really like working at a tampon factory.
(Warning: Like The Fault in Our Stars, I found it hard to divorce my feelings and my own personal experiences from the book itself. So this review is not very literary. Sorrynotsorry.)
One of the things that always happens in a John Green novel is that you learn something about yourself. Oftentimes, you learn a LOT.
An Abundance of Katherines started out really slow for me, even though I was enjoying the story and the writing. Green has the ability to both charm you and exasperate you with his writing and his characterizations. The writing is very solid, extremely funny, and very unique. There’s no one who describes things like John Green does, and there are very few people who view things from his perspective. So I was utterly delighted with his descriptions.
But I was also exasperated, because he likes to take an idea and just run with it and see how far he can go until it almost becomes too much. I recognize that this is what Colin, the main character is like, and it works for the book, but MAN. By the end of the book, I was a little tired of anagrams and math and fug and a whole lot of other things.
When Colin first comes up with the idea of his theorem, I remembered that the first present I ever received from a boy was a notebook. At the front of the notebook, he had written out an equation that he said – hoped – derived a number that had never existed before. He wrote that it was as unique as his feelings for me. My 17-year old self was pretty smitten by that.
And this leads me to my feelings while reading this book. For me, An Abundance of Katherines was really hard to read, not because it wasn’t good or beautiful, but because the characters reminded me SO much of myself when I was in high school and my first years of university. Colin’s obsessiveness over the Katherines and trying to figure out a way to justify losing Katherine XIX SO reminded me of me. The way he can’t tell a story and he just overanalyzes everything really made me squirm.
And when the characters didn’t remind me of myself, they reminded me of my first two ex-boyfriends, who used to take ideas and just go with them and go with them until they basically became obsessive things that drove everyone around mad. My first ex was a math and philosophy major. My second ex was a history major. They were obsessed with little details, and seeing them through the lens of this novel made me realize how similar they were, and how much like Colin I was, repeating the same mistakes over and over.
So, it was…a little painful reading this book. It dredged up a lot of memories of who I was back then, of mistakes I made, of the terribleness and wonderfulness of those relationships. But, in a way, thinking of myself like this, and getting to the ending of this book was a sort of catharsis; an exorcism of that person that I was. I know I’m not that person anymore.
I’m deeply grateful that I read this book, that I could experience that person once again, and that I realize how much I’ve changed and grown from that time. Like Colin and Lindsay and Hassan, I did manage to break through my own idiosyncrasies to get beyond those mistakes, and I’m hopeful that doing something, and doing something that I love now, matters and makes this crazy world make a bit more sense.
Math – Like REAL Math: This book is riddled with math. I suck at math. But as Green mentions at the end of his book, it’s fascinating and kind of beautiful, even if you don’t totally understand it.
Geeky McGeekery: This is the ultimate geek book. Practically every page has footnotes. Awesome footnotes. And there are obscure references to historical figures and weird facts everywhere. It’s super fun. If you’re a geek or you just like indulging in geek culture, this one’s for you.
Secondary Characters Who Should Get Their Own Novels: I want a novel just about awesome den mother Hollis, and maybe another one about Zeke and the people at the assisted living centre. This book is just RIFE with people – not archetypes, but people who are clearly defined and so beautiful. No one is judged, no one is vilified. BRILLIANT.
Universal Truths: John Green is one of those novelists who expounds on universal truths. In any other writer, I would find that pretentious and preachy, but with Green, the writing is so beautiful and right that I totally drink the Kool-Aid because it hits on something so true and so fundamental within me that I don’t feel preached to at all. Instead, I feel awe, a sense of rightness, and the universe all coming together.
The Final Word:
An Abundance of Katherines was an intensely personal read for me. It kind of annoyed me at the beginning, but the excellent writing, authentic characters, and charming premise drew me in, and the back half of the novel is so beautiful that it is completely worth the wait. Basically, like Colin, this book is an acquired taste that totally won me over.