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?

Looking for Alaska, John Green

“When I was born, my mom wanted to name me Harmony Springs Young, and my dad wanted to name me Mary Frances young.”  As she talked, she bobbed her head back and forth to the MTV music, even though the song was the kind of manufactured pop ballad she professed to hate.

“So instead of naming me Harmony or Mary, they agreed to let me decide.  So when I was little, they called me Mary.  I mean, they called me sweetie or whatever, but like on school forms and stuff, they wrote Mary Young.  And then on my seventh birthday, my present was that I got to pick my name.  Cool, huh?  So I spent the whole day looking at my dad’s globe for a really cool name.  And so my first choice was Chad, like the country in Africa.  But then my dad said that was a boy’s name, so I picked Alaska.”

I wish my parents had let me pick my name.  But they went ahead and picked the only name firstborn male Halters have had for a century.  “But why Alaska?” I asked her.

She smiled with the right side of her mouth.  “Well, later, I found out what it means.  It’s from an Aleut word, Alyeska.  It means ‘that which the sea breaks against’, and I love that.  But at the time, I just saw Alaska up there.  And it was big, just like I wanted to be.  And it was damn far away from Vine Station, Alabama, just like I wanted to be.”

Recommended by: SassyMonkey Reads

Looking for Alaska is about a lonely guy who goes to a boarding school so that he will make friends, which he duly does, and one of them is a mad girl named Alaska (mad in both senses of the word; I am in love with the English language), with whom he duly falls in love, and then she is dysfunctional and many things happen, and actually I think it was quite good, and I believe I shall check out that other book by John Green that everyone says is good.

And that’s about all I have to say about that.

Nope, a subsequent anecdote that made me laugh so much I find it worth editing this post to tell it to you, Internet.  My sister was in a YA fiction class at university, and the teacher was super touchy-feely and encouraged everyone to share, and sometimes there was oversharing.  And when they were talking about Looking for Alaska, this one girl said, “OMG, that scene where they’re having that really awkward scene where she’s trying to give him a blow job?  I mean, girls, we’ve all been there!  Hahaha, I must sound like such a slut.  But seriously we’ve all been there.”  Ah, oversharing.