February 21, 2016

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Sorry - not the best Photo
As I've talked about in various places here - I'm currently getting back into reading after a prolonged break. And during that prolonged break - a lot of stuff happened. Most of it for the better. Most notably - the world of Teen and Young Adult has embraced VARIETY. Before - I'm not going to lie - the 'teen' section was pretty black. We were still in the stage of 'dark romance' i.e. werewolves and vampires were definitely king. This wasn't necessarily a BAD thing - it was just a thing. And the 'dark ages' of teen/young adult reading definitely had their place- and I am currently reading Twilight again and loving it (it's so much better when you're reading it after not having done so for several years when all the hype has died down) BUT...

The variety is nice - you know?

So I've missed quite a lot of the VARIETY. I mean - Jenny Han, Victoria Aveyard, Geek Girl, Maze Runner, Rainbow Rowell, Sarah J. Maas, David Leviathan, Patrick Ness, Ally Carter, Pretty Little Liars, Holly Bourne, Marissa Meyer, Stephanie Perkins, Ally Condie,...

The list of apparently awesome people/series that have happened in Teen/Young Adult is HUGE. If I walk into the young adult section of a library - it's like a completely different place now. I'm not saying that they didn't exist before- they almost certainly did (at least some of them).. It's just that.... they weren't that big. And too be honest - a lot of it all just goes over my head. Who? What? Where? What is this new world that has been formed in my absence? But you do (you really do) have to have been an ABSOLUTE HERMIT to have not heard of John Green. Or maybe there will be some people who do not, indeed, know that name. But you will recognise The Fault in Our Stars. Yeah. He wrote that.

Yeah. I haven't read that. I know the premise. I know what happens. And I just don't. Want. To read. That. I know its beautiful, powerful, life changing... But I just don't want to read it. Nothing personal - just not a book for me. A bit like how I don't like mango fruit or eggplant.

So this isn't a review of The Fault in Our Stars, instead it's a review of An Abundance of Katherines. As you may have guessed by the title of this blog post. And there isn't a vampire in sight.

This is the story of amazing anagramer and former child prodigy Colin Singleton. It is not a story about Katherine. Or one of the numerous other girls bearing that name that Colin has dated. I like that.

In An Abundance of Katherines, Colin Singleton, after being dumped (for the 19th time) by a girl named Katherine - kind of goes into a complete and utter meltdown. His parents are worried - he's to important to being having a meltdown over a teenage romance. He has work to do. He has to become a genius. His best friend Hassan (clever, not as clever, but had a gap year in which he watched television and did nothing) decides that the cure for lying face down on the carpet drowning in misery is a road trip (although when is a road trip never the answer). In the end; they don't end up going very many places. It pretty much amounts to a gas station, and the town of Gutshot. (No, I didn't make that name up. But I really kind of hope that John Green did). Here, we meet Lindsey Lee Wells, and her mother Hollis. Hollis is the factory owner in a town which in all ways but non, exists for and resolves around the factory. She employs the boys to interview the residents of Gutshot so that an community history can be compiled. It's okay with the boys - and it gives Colin a lot of time to think about his big breakthrough project - a formula that will determine how long a relationship will last. (Based on if you are a dumper or a dumpee). 

Possibly one of the first things that I came to like is how this is a book about Colin Singleton. Okay- I know I sound like a parrot right now but bear with me. I like that it's a book about COLIN. Not a book about Katherine. I don't that often read a book from a boys viewpoint. This is the kind of thing that you only realize when you read a book about a boy. (As in a book about a boy instead of a book about a girl who isng a meltdown over a teenage romance. He has work to do. He has to become a genius. His best friend Hassan (clever, not as clever, but had a gap year in which he watched television and did nothing) decides that the cure for lying face down on the carpet drowning in misery is a road trip (although when is a road trip never the answer). In the end; they don't end up going very many places. It pretty much amounts to a gas station, and the town of Gutshot. (No, I didn't make that name up. But I really kind of hope that John Green did). Here, we meet Lindsey Lee Wells, and her mother Hollis. Hollis is the factory owner in a town which in all ways but non, exists for and resolves around the factory. She employs the boys to interview the residents of Gutshot so that an community history can be compiled. It's okay with the boys - and it gives Colin a lot of time to think about his big breakthrough project - a formula that will determine how long a relationship will last. (Based on if you are a dumper or a dumpee). 

One of the second things- is I like how Colin's preoccupation with feeling the need to MATTER is transferable. Okay - so we are not all child prodigy. We can't all anagram anything (except a small list of words that contains the word muumuu).  We couldn't all read the paper before we were potty trained. We can't all be fluent in Arabic and German - BUT - I think that we all want to matter. People - as a general population - are people people. We want to matter to someone, or to be famous, or to be liked, or to be loved, or to win a Nobel Prize... Not everyone wants to matter to everyone and be on the front of all the gossip magazines (understandable) but I think that as a general people we ARE bothered about how we are seen by other people - we want to matter to them. I like how this need is reflected in Colin's preoccupation. I like how he struggles with working out what it is that he ACTUALLY wants. Is it Katherine? Or is it something else?

So you maybe thinking that the whole premise for this book is a bit far fetched. I mean - one boy (he hasn't even started college yet) dating 19 girls named Katherine? And girls of only that name? Wouldn't all Katherines in the land start avoiding him like the plague - cause they know that it's only going to end up badly? And okay - so yes. Maybe it is. Slightly. Just ever a little bit far fetched. BUT it really doesn't matter. It doesn't really affect the story much/at all. This is a story of how he gets over all the Katherines. I really don't feel that this book would be any different if each girl had a different name. The fact that they are all called Katherine is barely a thing. I mean - Colin has quite a mathematical mind. You may as well just drop the name and just keep the numbers. Although maybe it does matter- just a little bit. This book has to have some sort of picking up point - right? It's about totally normal people doing totally normal things - with no werewolf activity to draw people in it needs to have a selling point - right? :P


As far as characters are concerned - simplicity is evidently key here. There isn't a long slew of characters to get your head around. Or there is - but there aren't really that many you need to pay attention to. You could probably get away with only really knowing Colin, his best friend Hassan, Hollis, the woman who 'employs' him over summer, and her daughter, Lindsey Lee Wells. There are other characters of course, but their not really integral to the story. 

I love how none of the characters are perfect (or so it seems). On Goodreads, the main comment about this book is that Colin's whiny, that Hassan is kind of funny but only in one particular way and even then not that funny, and Lindsey Lee Wells is kind of bland. I kind of get that - but then I disagree. So Hassan is not going to win any prizes for his comedy. He's funny - but he ain't going to end up on television. A load of my friends are funny - but I don't think that any of them are going to end up winning prizes for being funny or being on television telling jokes. Maybe Colin is unbearably whiny and I'm just missing it all - but I just don't see it. Or not like that anyway. I've known a lot of characters who were a lot more whiny - Colin's been dumped 19 times ... And he thinks that's his biggest problem. He's only ever had one friend (not counting anyone named Katherine), his Dad only seems to be concerned with nurturing Colin to become a 'genius' and his Mom seems to be very focused on Colin being as normal as possible. Colin is very aware that he is a 'former' prodigy and that he isn't normal. I'd actually say that the whining IS normal in that situation. And it really isn't that bad. 

The book progressed at quite I nice pace I thought. Which for all intents and purposes was quite slow. Appropriately slow. Remember - there are no werewolves in this book - no immediate life threatening situations. It isn't an action book - to be honest it isn't really a romance. It's more a book about finding out more about the person you are. So no fact paced heart racing moments - it's more of a stroll of a book then a sprint. I also liked how the plot was straightforward. Apart from the 'devastating' realization Colin has about one of the Katherines that sets his formula straight - there are no unforeseen plot twists. Not really. There didn't need to be. This is just not that kind of story. I feel like how the epic road trip only ended up having one stop kind of sets the pace for this book. They made a journey. It wasn't an epic one. It was one that they went on till they got where they needed to go. Then they went on another one. 

As mentioned above- yes it was predictable. But it wasn't in a disappointing way - not like how some people find it disappointing when they work out how a detective story is going to end before the ending. This book is not like that AT ALL. But yes - you do kind of know where it’s going. Don’t be put off by it. This book is not about the end result - it’s about the journey. 

The formula itself - I must admit the prospect of such a thing terrifies me. There’s one point where Colin projects he may win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work if he can get it right (because there isn’t one in Mathematics and think of just how many less dumpings there would be…) but I mean - would he really? If you knew that your relationship would only last x amount of time - would you really bother? Colin seems to be determined to not have to live through the break ups, the lows of the relationship. But was Colin unhappy during the relationships? No. He was perfectly fine with them (if a bit self absorbed) whilst they were proceeding. I think with the formula Colin doesn’t think about just how unhappy everyone would be - this formula would mean that a lot of people would go around with no hope. Which I don’t think would result in a very happy population. 

One of possibly the most obvious things about the book is the footnotes. Kind of like optional expansions on the text. Additional reading if you will. The things that Colin doesn’t end up divulging because the subject is deemed uninteresting - just in case you are, in fact, interested. Translations of Arabic and German. Little notes explaining things that are mentioned in passing by the characters but then not explained (or more likely it’s reassuring you that these things will be explained presently). A lot of it is math. Not hard math. Very approachable math. Or math that you don’t really have to understand because it’s explained so nicely. It’s there I think sometimes so you can look at it and admire that Colin is, indeed, a prodigy. Cause I’m a first year Math and Physics student - and I look at that formula and think - ah I just want to bury my head under a pillow instead of dealing with that thing. But at the end of the book - there’s an appendix where the whole thing is explained very nicely - and very simply - by a real mathematician. Which is nice. I mean - it’s real math. It’s nice when you can tell yourself that you’re really studying when you’re actually procrastinating. 

I feel like there are two noticeable things about this review. One is that I have said something along the lines of “I like…” a lot. I’m sorry. I’m tired. And really - I’ve still not got the hang of this book review thing again yet. Have patients please. Another is that I feel like I’m defending this book. Picking through other peoples reviews seems to be that people didn’t like this book - they found it the worst of John Green’s books. I can’t really comment on that; but… 

I think if you take this book for what it is - it’s a downright brilliant book. It’s different. And it’s different because it’s ordinary. It’s a really nice book that you can read in a couple of days (a couple of hours if you’re a faster reader than me). It’s a kind of hug in book form. The kind of thing that you want to go back to when you want a good, feel good book that will make you feel good when you need to have a good read to make you feel better. The kind that you don’t mind reading over and over again. It has 4 stars on Amazon - it isn’t an epic. Its just a plain old good book - and one of the best plain old good books I’ve read in a while. 


If nothing else - I could read the chapter when you see just how far Hollis goes for her employees over and over and over again. If ever you want to read something that restores your faith in humanity and business… this is it. It’s so heartbreakingly beautiful - without the dramatics. So even if you do find Colin the most whiny protagonist ever (although I found The Catcher in the Rye much worse and that’s a classic) - it’s worth reading through for that moment. It’s not a long book. Just stick with it. It’s worth it. 


3 comments:

  1. I remember reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school and everyone saying how relatable Houlden is and how relatable it was and blah blah blah. And I just read it and cringe at every page. Houlden was soooo whiny! Which is funny because I actually like Salinger's shorter books, probably because the characters aren't talking long enough to get too annoying XD

    I haven't read this John Green book yet. It is sitting on my bookshelf. But I will say this about The Fault In Our Stars, I am not a big sappy person. I don't like romantic stories and such, and I enjoyed the book a lot. I wouldn't say it was life changing and all that, but I think it is a well written tragic love story. But that said I think when things get over hyped it is hard to not be disappointed. I was lucky to pick up the book without having the popularity effect it.

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  2. I know. Theres relatable - and then theres the kind of guy you just wouldn't hang out with because... well... And some of the stuff he does! I've never read any of his shorter books - I'll have to look some out soon then!

    I'd definitely recommend this book - it's only a quick read after all. I will read it at some point - but not yet. And I've got a load of other books I want to read - and there was a sample of Looking for Alaska so I now need to get my hands on a copy of that!

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