In my typical fashion as of late, I admit that I grabbed John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines initially because of the cover — and because I was looking for some different young adult fiction, particularly YA without a good-girl-gone-bad main character or something with warring best friends. While I’m not opposed to those plotlines persay, I wanted something different. And hey, this was written by a guy. I’m in.
Former child prodigy Colin believes he’s all washed up — and has a string of ended relationships with girls named Katherine to prove it (nineteen, to be exact). With his exceedingly high IQ and love of anagrams, teenage Colin has spent his young life pushed to read more, learn more and be more by his well-meaning parents, but after the latest relationship with Katherine XIX ended with her unceremoniously dumping him, Colin knows he needs to try for more than just academic success. Plus, he’s having no luck discovering his “Eureka!” moment.
After his best friend finds him sulking face-down on the carpet, Colin and Hassan set out on a road trip: Colin to clear his head; Hassan to put some ideas into it. Hass has spent the last few years on his parents’ couch watching “Judge Judy,” opting out of a college education or job in favor of potato chips and not-doing. A trip to nowhere in particular may be just what they need — especially one without any Katherines in sight.
Though the boys set out to be free and on the road, they don’t wind up on the highway for long — their adventure from Chicago ends up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they discover Lindsey Lee Wells sitting idly in a general store and flippantly decide to take a tour of a nearby cemetary. Lindsey, of course, is their guide. The boys wind up staying with she and her mother Hollis after Hassan and Colin are offered a small job, and trio (complete now with Lindsey) begins interviewing local residents of Gutshot about life in the town. Their documentary comes to mean a great deal to all of them, though each for different reasons.
And will time begin to heal Colin’s aching, Katherine-demolished heart? I initially found it pretty crazy to actually believe that someone could date nineteen women with the exact same first name (and same spelling, as Colin forcefully asserts) but by the center of the novel, it stopped really bothering me. We all have a “type” — people we just seem to be drawn to, no matter how much we may struggle against it (I can’t stop dating military men, for example). And the Katherines all taught him something about life and love, even by their absence:
You can love someone so much, he thought. But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.
And Colin has some other big realizations, too — though as a reader, I’d sort of understood this all along:
“I don’t think you can ever fill the empty space with the thing you lost. … That’s what I realized: if I did get her back somehow, she wouldn’t fill the hole that losing her created.”
An Abundance of Katherines was my first experience with John Green, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. He’s an exceptionally gifted writer who integrated so many ideas in his small book, I was thrilled to be traveling along in the Hearse with the boys. While the math problems began to make my brain hurt about halfway in — I’m a lover of words, not equations — I was still interested to see how, and if, Colin could come up with his great idea. The appendix in the back of the book helped make sense of these problems.
I loved the relationship between Hassan and Colin, and though I didn’t completely understand Colin as a person, I could certainly relate to feeling as though your childhood was filled with such promise — and your adolescence feels strangely, painfully, ordinary. Lindsey Lee was also a really fun character and I cringed a bit over her relationship with TOC, but all’s well that ends well.
Full of quotable quotes and other anecdotes, I definitely recommend this one to lovers of literature — not just young adult. Also a great read for young men, which can sometimes be tough to find in the YA market.
4 out of 5