Review of “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green

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 his favorite shows on television, 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 all of his books) makes a convincing argument about how important stories are to changing the reader, and maybe even changing the world.

Rating: 4/5

Note: This book was a 2007 Michael L. Printz Award Honor book.

Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2006

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21 Responses to Review of “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green

  1. I really need to read John Green. Sounds like I might appreciated this one more than The Fault in Our Stars.

  2. Barbara says:

    Gutshot, Tennessee cracks me up! 😀

  3. This is new to me and it’s going on my list. For some reason the name makes me smile.Great review.

  4. zibilee says:

    This is a book that I have long been interested in, and now you have just heightened my fervor to read it! It sounds like Green does a really great job with male teenage protagonists, and I have to admit that it was only the title that first caught my attention, but now that I have more to go on, I think this will be a likely future read. Wonderful review today, Jill!

  5. softdrink says:

    This is the Green that I’ve forgotten the most. So it came as a surprise that he has some recurring themes (well, not the road trip…ALL his books have road trips that are hard to forget) regarding making an impact.

  6. Care says:

    One thing that I really like about this author is his ability to weave such odd subjects and activities into his books: the anagramming, odd points on maps, something brainiac usually, etc. I love that he pulls it off so very well. Like he just thinks about odd cool stuff and then effortlessly frames a plot around it all.

  7. I bought this a while ago because I liked the title so much. When I was growing up there was definitely an abundance of Katherines/Kathryns. Now, I need to make time to read the book.

  8. Meg says:

    This was actually my first experience with Green and I really loved this book! I dog-eared so many memorable quotations, but the one that has stuck with me longest (and was easily recalled just now) is this one:

    “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.”

    Still nursing a bit of a broken heart years back, that really struck a chord with me. Green is a master storyteller.

  9. stacijoreads says:

    Oh yeah! You are on a Green roll…this is probably my favorite of his books!! I just checked it out today for my son’s girlfriend. Can’t wait to talk about it with her when she’s done. Loved your review!

  10. Vasilly says:

    I read Green’s Looking for Alaska several months ago and it had a similar theme. Now that I’m thinking about it, I want to reread it. 🙂 The quote you included is amazing! I need to add it to my reading list. Maybe we should just have a John Green read-along. everyone seems to love his books.

  11. Jenners says:

    You’re making quite a case for John Green. The only book of his that I read (Looking for Alaska) didn’t make me fall in love. (Is that tomorrow’s review? Are you reading them all now?) Perhaps I shall give him another try though. Maybe I was grouchy when I read it.

  12. I liked this one when I listened to it a few years ago — thanks for the refresher.

  13. I recently read this one and really enjoyed it!

  14. aartichapati says:

    I only read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green (and someone else) and my review of that book did not go over well in some corners and has really made me want to steer clear of the author in general. But maybe I shouldn’t hold my experience against him 🙂

  15. His books sound so good. I definitely need to make more time in my schedule to read them. 🙂

    I liked his response to the remarkable quote. Can you imagine if we held authors responsible for the way people used their characters’ quotes (either via inspiration or actions) out of context with bad consequences? Thank goodness for freedom of speech!

  16. Aths says:

    I’ve been hearing so much about John Green’s books! I need to check this one out – I love the cover and the title!

  17. Jenny says:

    Wow what a great point John Green makes about that quote. I think I tend to attribute characters’ thoughts to the author without even thinking about it.

  18. Jenny says:

    I love John Green’s distinction between himself and the character! I thought it was pretty clear in the book that it was Colin’s thinking, not the author’s, though — Hassan is portrayed more positively overall than Colin, I think. (If I’m remembering it correctly. It’s been a while.)

  19. stacybuckeye says:

    I need to get on the Green bandwagon. I know I have one or two of them around here. I do like his clarification that included KK. She always seem to be the the qualifier when people talk about being famous for something or just being famous for famous sake.

  20. bookingmama says:

    I bet his books are awesome for teen book groups. Just the topics you mention in your reviews would make them ideal for further analysis.

  21. Trish says:

    This: “he makes you think about all kinds of things.” I think John Green also makes you FEEL all kinds of things. I haven’t read TFiOS yet but seems that the desire to matter is a theme in all of his books. Definitely a big theme in Paper Towns.

    I own this one so it’s just a matter of actually getting to it.

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