Review: An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

Colin Singleton, who is growing out of being a child prodigy and becoming just a normal smart kid, has been dumped by no fewer than nineteen girls called Katherine, the first one when he was eight years old, and the last only very recently, the day that he graduated from high school.  He and his friend Hassan decide to go on a road trip across the country, and Colin decides he is going to create a mathematical formula to determine the path and outcome of any romantic relationship.

Pleasingly geeky premise, isn’t it?  And if there are elements of the story that are predictable (like, you know Colin’s going to learn useful life lessons and take steps along the road to recovering from this most recent Katherine dumping), and if certain plot points (like the premise) strain one’s credulity a smidge, I was by and large okay with it.  John Green, YA rock star, has other gifts as a writer that cover for him when realism and credibility fail him.  (Ooh, that sounded so mean!  There are lots of things that are credible and realistic, and the premise is of course tongue-in-cheek.)

Chief amongst these other gifts being: Characters.  The characters in An Abundance of Katherines are complex and surprising and very much themselves.  I was sorry for Colin, but the book manages, without getting real obvious about it, to convey his own part in the Katherine break-up debacles.  The reader sees where Colin is coming from and appreciates his maturing over the course of the book, even if he is not spotting the changes in himself every time.  Accomplishing this with a first-person narrator can be tricky, but it’s managed well here.

The supporting characters are arguably even better.  They aren’t just filling shoes; they aren’t the center of Colin’s story, but they aren’t just satellites for him either.  They are plainly the stars of stories in which Colin is a supporting actor, and some major parts of those stories are happening around the edges of Colin’s search for happiness and enlightenment.  And there is a road trip!  Well, part of a road trip.  I wouldn’t have minded more road trip, though.  I love a good road trip.

Other reviews: My laptop is six years old, and I am having internet issues, so I will simply refer you to the ever-useful Book Blogs Search Engine for other reviews.  If you have written a review of An Abundance of Katherines, and it doesn’t show up in this search, contact Nicki and ask her to add you to her Master List (once she has finished with her dissertation) (dissertations should always have priority).

Life Stuff: The first week of my shiny new internship was smashing.  I edited notes and indexes and learned the difference between word-by-word and letter-by-letter alphabetization.  This was good in a way, but it also made me worry about the index I made one time when I was in college and working for the English Department.  I did not really know how to make indexes, and I fear I caused difficulties for the people who had to edit it.

Dear manuscript editorial department of Cambridge University Press,

I am sorry about that index.  I did not know any better.

Kisses, Jenny.

A serious issue: What is the best way to spell Catherine/Kathryn/Katharine, etc.?  And do you have a favorite nickname for the name Katherine?

61 thoughts on “Review: An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

  1. Catherine is good if you want to be tough and Russian and freakin’ terrifying like Catherine the Great. Katherine is good if you want to be like Katherine Hepburn, who is exactly like Catherine the Great except not Russian. And Kathryn is good if you want to spend all your time telling people how to spell your name correctly!

    So, you know, whichever.

    Nicknames? Katie, Kathy, Kate (substitute the K’s for C’s if you want) are pretty standard, but I like Kitty because it makes me think of Kitty Carlisle. 😀

    • I think Katie is an adorable little nickname, but I like Catherine-with-a-C the best of all the spellings. I did know a girl in high school who went by Katie and spelled her name Catherine, but I sort of thought she was cheating. Can’t have your cake and eat it too!

  2. There is a great Katherine in the story “Hairball” by Margaret Atwood. Here is what Atwood writes about the variations on her name: “During her childhood she was a romanticized Katherine, dressed by her misty-eyed, fussy mother in dresses that looked like ruffled pillowcases. By high school she’d shed the frills and emerged as a bouncy, round-faced Kathy, with gleaming freshly washed hair and enviable teeth, eager to please and no more interesting than a health-food ad. At university she was Kath, blunt and no-bullshit in her Take-Back-the-Night jeans and checked shirt and her bricklayer-style striped-denim peaked hat. When she ran away to England, she sliced herself down to Kat. It was economical, street-feline, and pointed as a nail.” By the end of the story, she signs herself “K.”

    • Oh, I love it! Very well-chosen details to describe her at each phase!

      Her paring down of her name reminds me of Oscar Wilde – he was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, and he eventually gave up the middle names and went by Oscar Wilde. He said his ambition was to be known one day by a single name: The Oscar or The Wilde.

  3. This book left me scratching my head. It felt very “clever” and not in a good way. I was bored by the whole thing. But that was before I saw John Green’s vlogs, and I wonder if perhaps I just didn’t understand his voice and tone when I read it. I think I’d enjoy it more now if I reread it, knowing him a little better.

    • I can see how it would feel that way. I didn’t connect to it deeply on an emotional level, but I enjoyed spending time with the characters enough that I didn’t mind.

  4. This is the only Green novel I have left to read…the premise didn’t sound all that appealing to me. But I’m sure I’ll give it a try eventually, since Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns both rocked!

    My favourite version of Katherine is the Russian Ekaterina. 🙂 In fact, my parents almost named me Katerina, except my mom was worried my dad (a Russian linguist) would always correct anyone who pronounced it in an American way. lol

    • That’s pretty! But I think upon reflection I like Eva better. 🙂

      I’m looking forward to reading Paper Towns – that’s the newest one, isn’t it? I know I’ve seen lots of reviews of it in the past – er, year or so…

  5. Just looking at the responses it’s interesting how our favourite variants of Katherine are influenced by the people we’ve known with the name – which is why I can’t go with Kate. As Shakespeare said, “None of us cared for Kate”. And I can’t do Cathy – please don’t make me read ‘Wuthering Heights’ again. I think I will have to stick with Katherine itself and be done with it.

    • Yeah, I know a girl called Kate who is one of my all-time favorite people, that’s definitely a factor in my liking the name Kate. Whereas I’ve never known any Cathys except for the Wuthering Heights girl, and oh how I hated her.

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed it – I love this book but nobody else seems to, which makes me sad.

    I’m glad to hear the internship is going well!

    And personally I’m a fan of Catherine and Cath.

    • Thanks! It’s boring to talk about (different methods of alphabetization! Whether you can say “quotes” for “quotations in ordinary conversation!), but I’m enjoying it a LOT.

      I like Catherine myself, though I’m not crazy about Cath. Catherine looks so serene.

  7. Haha, you came very close to being Kathryn yourself – if you don’t like the name, thank your father for giving you the last name he did – I didn’t like the combination. You’d have been Katie You-know-what, perhaps shortened to Kat, which I love. Catherine seems a little sweet/stolid to me, which is one of the reasons that Wuthering Heights fascinated me – Cathy was playing wildly against type for me.

    • With a Y? You would have named be Kathryn with a Y? Then what would you have called Robyn? But I’d have liked Kat or Katie.

      It’s funny how our ideas of Catherine are a few shades off from each other. Catherine seems serene to me – you know, the not-dull form of stolid. :p

    • Be prepared to maybe not like it as much! A lot of people don’t – including me, actually, I thought Looking for Alaska packed more of a punch. But An Abundance of Katherines is also good.

  8. I always thought Anne Shirley was a jerk when she was complaining that Catherines with a C were inferior to Katherines with a K, simply because she thought the C was smug. Cs are not smug, no more than a cat in the sun is smug, and who hates them?!

    I like Kit (The Witch of Blackbird Pond ftw!) and Kitty.

    • Did she say that? That’s not very nice! How would she like it if other people said Anne with an E was inferior and smug? As a girl with strong name preferences herself, she should be more sensitive to other people’s!

      Kit is cute but it sounds more like a boy’s name to me – I remember thinking that when I was reading Witch of Blackbird Pond. Plus it annoyed me that her name was so similar to Nat’s.

  9. I know a lot of Catherines who go by Cathy. Katheryn (no insult meant to any with that spelling) is like Vampyre- the y does nothing but make it it harder to spell. (And in the case of Vampyre, a bit more pretentious).

    • Hahaha, that made me think of Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how he always used to say vamPIRE. But yes, by and large I agree with you.

  10. Spell Catherine the REAL way, as you see it here. All other spellings are variations and attempts at being “different”.

    “Cat” is the best nickname. My grandfather always called me that.

    “Cathy” has been around for a few centuries and isn’t bad. It’s my other nickname.

    • That is how I prefer to spell it! Catherine! Best way to go! And Cat is the best nickname for Catherine, although I would say Kate and Katie are both very cute nicknames for Katherine (or Katharine).

  11. This is the first John Green novel I ever read, and I thought it was clever in a different way from anything else out there.

    Catherine should be Cathy and Katherine should be Kate. Using the full name is pretentious and calling yourself after a feline or a urine tube is ridiculous.

    • Aw, I like Cat and Kitty. I was going to make some incredibly clever retort about its being no more ridiculous to name yourself after a feline than a….something! But I couldn’t think of a good something. So I will just leave you with this thought: One time my sister had a textbook in school, and the person who had the book before her was called Trachea. Truth.

      • Trapunto, maybe I only think that using the full name for “Katherine” or its variants is pretentious because I’ve lived so long in an academic community where mothers forbid people to use a shortened form of their child’s name–there are a lot of kids around here named something like “James” whose parents get mad if anyone calls the kid “Jim.”

        And maybe I’m still reacting to my grandmother, who was reportedly unwilling to put my dad’s name–Jack–on the wedding invitations because “it’s a nickname.” No, it’s not “short” for John–it’s his actual name.

  12. I love John Green but this is my least favorite of his novels. He’s still a rock star though!

    I like Katherine and I actually enjoy the full name, without a nickname. But if a nickname is necessary, I prefer Kate.

    • I’m sad I only have one more of his books to go. Write more, John Green!

      Yes, Kate is good, and always makes me say “But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom” – while of course divorcing the quotation from its sexist source. 😉

  13. [I’m glad you spell your name with a “K.” Katherine with a “K” is so much more alluring than Catherine with a “C.” A “C” always looks so smug. ~ Anne Shirley]

    My grandmother spelled her name with a K and Grandpa called her Kat. She was born in 1892. My great-great-great grandmother spelled her name with a C. She was born in 1847.

    • Hrmph. Anne. I don’t like that Anne Shirley. Emily Starr was plainly better.

      I like them both – I think Catherine/Katherine’s a very pretty name. I am only torn because of the nicknames issue.

    • I think this is why I dislike the C spelling. I loved Anne Shirley as a young girl.

      And she also hated Ann without an E too. I likewise, am not a fan of the E-less variety.

      So, Jenny, I’m obviously an Anne fan 🙂

    • I know! And I love what they did to the title on the cover, making it all mathy – though I know my math major friend tim would not approve.

  14. I listened to the audio of this a year ago, while coughing drywall dust and breathing paint fumes. Forever associated.

    I also thought the characters were above average.

    Was there a moral? I can’t remember. I think there was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “paint till you drop.”

    My real name is not Catherine, but another one that can be spelled with a K or a C. I’m biased.

    Mostly I’m biased against unnecessary internal y’s.

    • No, that was the moral actually. Paint until you drop, that was the whole point of the book. You are remembering perfectly accurately.

      My little sister’s name is Robyn with a Y, but to be fair, my mother one time knew this girl with an ambiguously female name, and when this girl went to college, they put her in the guys’ dorm. Robyn’s internal Y may have saved her from having to spend three nights at the dean’s place. :p

      • That is so strange! Just Wednesday I just heard a family story about somebody who got saddled with the name of one of the Victorian patriarchs–Elba–and arrived at college in the 1940’s to find he’d been placed in the girl’s dorm. You’d think there’d be those little “m” and “f” boxes to check on the application!

  15. I have been reading several reviews of this book over the past couple of weeks, and after reading yours, I am convinced that this is a book I would love. I really liked your review and think that the book sounds like a really eclectic read. Glad to hear that your first week at the internship went so well!

  16. i have read great things about this book. not that it is great literature so much as that it is just very enjoyable.

    glad your new work is going well, i am greener than the author of the katherines.

    • Exactly. I probably won’t buy it, but I enjoyed reading it, and I will be reading any further books by John Green because he makes me smile.

      Thanks for the good wishes on the internship!

  17. Don’t worry about the index. Maya Angelou says, “I did what I knew, and when I knew better, I did better.” Good enough for all of us. And I like Kit actually as a nickname for Christopher and Kate for Katherine.

    • I LOVE Kit as a nickname for Christopher. I have not expressed this to my family as they do not approve of my boy-name ideas and would scream loudly about the psychological abuse I would be condemning a potential son to if I ever named him Christopher and called him Kit…but I think it’s the cutest little nickname. Like Kit Marlowe! The, uh, most manly playwright of them all! :/

      • bar brawl = very manly, but being “accidentally” stabbed in a bar is not.

        now, if someone can finally prove that he was ASSASINATED and the bar brawl was a cover up, this would give him some extra “man points”

        i dont think the fact that he was stabbed in the eye affects manliness either way.

        i also believe that his man points would be affected if it were determined that he

      • (cont)

        i also believe that his man points would be affected if it were determined that he was a government spy.

        i think being a spy would immediately double any value associated with his manliness.

        just my 2 pennies.

  18. I loved this book for the great characters, but mostly for the math. There aren’t enough books with math in them. And have you noticed that nowadays, it’s become acceptable to say ”hee, hee, I don’t know anything about math. I’m hopeless at it, hee, hee”? Blah.

    The road trip in this book was good, but the road trip in Paper Towns is the best. I guffawed in bed while reading.

    I agree with the person above who said Catherine is Cathy and Katherine is Kate. My sister is Cathy, so I am biased. It bothered my when Anne Shirley said she preferred the K spelling.

    • There should be more books with math in! I think that would make it more accessible to reading geeks like I was (and am). I like it in general when books include little lessons about different subjects. The Sparrow, which I read recently, talked a bit about linguistics, which I loved; and I loved it in Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang, which I just finished, when he talked about the principles of animation.

      I do want to read Paper Towns. More road trip!

      • I agree. Math and logic. Looking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Phantom Tollbooth and Through the Looking Glass were what put me on the road to studying philosophy.

        That’s why I love Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz. It’s like those books, only more and different.

        But I *am* one of those people who is hopeless at actually doing math, much as I love hearing how it works. I had a flat earth moment when I tried to do proofs in high school–staring out over a void beyond which my brain simply could not go. Do I get any points for being embarrassed about it?

  19. When I was a small child, I thought only girls with dark hair could have the name Cathy with a C and those with lighter hair had Kathy with a K. Then I moved to New England and everyone EVERYONE! is Kathy with a K. So maybe it is a Midwestern thing to have Cathy with a C. I prefer the C spelling, myself.

  20. When I was a kid I loved being Katy with a y, because it was just me and Katy Carr from What Katy Did. Then Katy Perry came along, and I resent her deeply for taking my y spelling and making everyone associate it with her and her terrible voice and outfits. I still like my name, though.

    • Darn that Katy Perry! Do what I do: Pretend she doesn’t exist. I can’t tell her apart from Zooey Deschanel anyway because they have the same face on their heads. Just pretend there’s only one of them and it’s always Zooey Deschanel. That Zooey Deschanel can wear some kooky outfits, and her fiance Russell Brand says lots of swear words. (See how easy it is?)

  21. There are different ways to alphabetize? I feel so lost now. What if I’m using the wrong one?

    It always kind of throws me when I see someone who’s a Katherine with a C (which I guess is a Catherine, not a Katherine), but if that’s how they spell it then that’s how I spell it whenever I refer to them.

    If you think Katherine/Catherine too many times, it doesn’t feel like a real name anymore.

    • You aren’t doing it wrong, there’s no wrong one. It’s just your preference, and it probably never matters unless you’re compiling an index or writing a dictionary. When I’m editing an index for work, I don’t change the kind of alphabetization being used. I just make a note of it so I can ensure that it’s consistent throughout the index.

      The two kinds are word-by-word and letter-by-letter – the difference is that letter-by-letter ignores spaces and most punctuation and only stops alphabetizing after a comma or parenthesis. So in word-by-word alphabetization, “sea view” would come before “seascape”; but in letter-by-letter alphabetization, “seascape” would come first. But “sea, stormy” would come before both of those entries, in both kinds of alphabetizing.


  22. I liked your question “What is the best way to spell Catherine/Kathryn/Katharine, etc.? And do you have a favorite nickname for the name Katherine?” 🙂 I think sometimes it is also spelt ‘Catharine’ 🙂 I don’t know which is the best way to spell it – I think they all sound good. The Russian version of this name is ‘Katerina’ or ‘Ekaterina’. The nickname I like for it is the Russian diminutive name ‘Katya’ – it sounds so melodious and soft.

  23. I just read this book and really enjoyed it. I agree that elements of the story are predictable but that John Green manages to pull off an entertaining story anyway. Math equations, interesting and complex characters, humorous footnotes . . . loved it all 🙂

    I have to say I’m partial to Katherine with a K. Ks, I’ve found, are much more fun to write. Plus I’ve developed a strong anti-C bias. I blame teaching preschool for this, actually. It was difficult trying to explain to my students without confusing them that in fact the letter C makes two different sounds that are already made by two other letters and that really the only time it makes a unique sound is when it’s paired with an H. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. They were, as it turns out, quite indignant about the whole thing and accused the letter C of stealing the K and S sounds.

    • Well, I like Cs and Ks both, so I don’t think that’s influencing my preferences. I like writing large dramatic ones. That’s adorable that your students got mad at C! Perhaps if you had showed them “C is for Cookie” they would have been mollified. :p

  24. Pingback: An Abundance of Katherines (review) « The Alcove

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