Picture this: You used to be a childhood prodigy. Member of an academic game team. You excelled in school. You were special. You met a girl named Katherine and the two of you started dating.
Then she dumps you.
Then eighteen more girls named Katherine dump you.
Suddenly, you’re a teenager with no claim to fame except for your former status as a prodigy. No new ideas. No girl. No plans for the summer excepting wasting away in your room and moping.
This is not your life. But it is Colin Singleton’s life immediately after his graduation from high school.
Given Colin’s history with girls, you might not be surprised that John Green chose to name his second novel An Abundance of Katherines (2006)–a title that proves itself even more apt as the novel progresses.
After sulking for several days after being dumped (again), Colin is dragged out of his room by Hasan, his best friend. Hassan is confident that the only cure for Colin’s depression is a road trip. So Colin and his Judge-Judy-loving, overweight, Muslim pal head off for the great beyond that is the United States between the coasts. Their road trip stops in Gutshot, Tennessee. But the adventures don’t. Hired by a local bigwig to compile an oral history of Gutshot, Colin and Hassan find themselves staying with Hollis and her daughter, Lindsey. It is in Gutshot that Colin finally has what he has always wanted, a truly original idea. Thus, Colin begins to create a theorem of love in his attempt to understand his own rocky love life.
Most of my friends who have read this book and Green’s first novel Looking for Alaska agree that his second novel is not as compelling a read. Having only read “Katherines,” I cannot make a judgment one way or the other. What I can say is that I loved the style of this book. There has been a growing trend to use footnotes in novels–notable examples include The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, and Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn which is a novel written entirely of endnotes. Green continues that tradition here to good effect.
The tone throughout is quirky, nerdy, and generally fun. I don’t know that reading this novel will change any lives, but it will certainly get a lot of laughs. The best parts are, undoubtedly, the dialogues between Hassan and Colin. The guys are just so likable! In addition, Green’s writing is snappy–all the better to keep the laughs coming.
Some readers might find the name John Green familiar although they cannot say why. This year John and his brother Hank have earned a good amount of notoriety on the internet for their Brotherhood 2.0 vlog project (available on YouTube) in which the brothers send videos back and forth each weekday in lieu of text conversation (if you’re curious be sure to check out the Feb. 14, 2007 post because it’s my favorite). They are really funny and seeing John Green and his brother in these vlogs makes it easy to see how Green came up with the idea for Colin Singleton.
Like Nothing but the Truth by Justina Chen Headley, this book includes a bit of math. The “real” math behind Colin’s theorem appears in the back of the book in an appendix and Green even has a website where you can use the theorem for your own relationships (if it doesn’t crash your computer). Despite all of that, Green is a self-proclaimed lost cause when it comes to math. (The theorem was drafted by friend (and “resident mathematician” for Brotherhood 2.0), Daniel Biss.) I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. First, because I think it’s great that Green is writing outside of what some might call his “comfort zone” and, second, because it should illustrate that you don’t have to like math to enjoy a book that features a lot of math.
Anyway, if you need a cheerful book with some fun, lovable characters I don’t think you can do better than this book which was recently nominated for the LA Times Book Award in addition to being selected as a Printz Award honor book.
Possible Pairings: Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee