Those who have read The Fault in Our Stars (see my review, here) will recognize the main theme of this book: the desire to matter; to make a mark on the world. What’s interesting is that the resolution of the protagonist’s existential angst in this story is quite different from that expressed in The Fault in Our Stars.
The book begins on the day after high school graduation for Colin Singleton, age 17 and “noted child prodigy” obsessed with making anagrams. He has just been dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine. Colin is weepy and morose and self-absorbed. As he says to his one friend, Hassan:
Oh my God, I’m alone again. And not only that, but I’m a total failure in case you haven’t noticed. I’m washed up, I’m former. Formerly the boyfriend of Katherine XIX. Formerly a prodigy. Formerly full of potential. Currently full of shit.”
Hassan (who introduces himself to people as “Hassan Harbish. Sunni Muslim. Not a terrorist.”) decides what Colin needs is a road trip, and they take off for points south.
In Gutshot, Tennessee, they stop to see the alleged burial site of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and meet up with the Wells family. Lindsey Lee Wells, 17, is the tour guide for the gravesite, and her mom, Hollis, is the owner of the only factory in Gutshot. Hollis offers the two boys a job interviewing workers in the factory, and provides them with room and board as well in her big pink mansion on a hill. Before long, Hassan is dating Lindsey’s hot girlfriend Katrina, and Lindsey is helping Colin refine his mathematical Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. More importantly, Lindsey is teaching Colin how to tell a story that will affect another person, and Colin is learning that there is more than one way to “matter” than to be famous.
Discussion: I love the questions about the meaning of life raised by Green in his books. For example, Hassan loves to watch Judge Judy, and Colin takes issue with him:
…he just didn’t get Hassan’s apathy. What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable? How very odd, to believe God gave you life, and yet not think that life asks more of you than watching TV.”
(On the author’s website, there is this Q and A exchange over that quote):
Q. Are you aware that the quotation, “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” has been quoted more than ten thousand times on twitter?
A. Yes, I am aware. For the record, I think there are many meanings to a life that is not lived in pursuit of the remarkable. Life is a series of very small gestures and that if you ignore those little gestures in pursuit of some ill-thought-out vision of greatness, you stand a fair chance of ending up really unhappy and also historically unhelpful regardless of whether you meet your constructed definition of remarkability. (Let us think, for instance, of Kim Kardashian.) But, I mean, Colin does say that in the novel. I do wish twitter would attribute the quote to him and not to me, though. ”
Evaluation: Green’s writing is delightful, and he is a master at channeling very smart, nerdy, pretentious teenage boys, as well as their friends and their girlfriends. This book has a number of footnotes, which makes it even more fun. But Green does more than just tell you a story: he makes you think about all kinds of things, and (in both books reviewed on this blog) makes a convincing argument about how important stories are to changing the reader, and maybe even changing the world.
Note: This book was a 2007 Michael L. Printz Award Honor book.
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2006