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“An Abundance of Katherines” isn’t as good as John Green’s other novels

John Green has had many outstanding books that have made the top of the young adult fiction list. The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska have all been massive successes, so of course when I heard there was another book, An Abundance of Katherines, I couldn’t wait to start reading it. Would it be as good as the other three?

Katherine V thought boys were gross

Katherine X just wanted to be friends

Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail

K-19 broke his heart

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun–but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

aok

Unfortunately, this book did not live up to the expectations that are normally associated with Green. The book didn’t hold my attention for long, so I was glad it was short. As a main character I found Colin to be annoying and whiney, and just because he acknowledges that fact himself doesn’t mean it makes it any less annoying to read.

The book was also filled with footnotes, and as much as I understood that it worked the narrative and fitted with the theme of Colin’s “kid genius” title, it was annoying to follow. At times this coming-of-age story turned into a textbook.

One of the better things about An Abundance of Katherines was the friendship between Colin and Hassan – they’ve got such a genuine friendship and they both know how to push each other’s buttons, and when to stop. The brainiac, and the not-so-brainiac complement each other, and their camaraderie feels very real.

But amidst a slightly annoying read, I did like the message Green wove into the novel that I felt formed the moral of the story: the idea that we can’t get be so focused on the hang-ups of the past to see what’s in front of you or to stop you protecting yourself from the future.

Near the end of the novel, Green writes:

“But now Colin would fill his own hole and make people stand up and take notice of him. He would stay special, use his talent to do something more interesting and important than anagramming and translating Latin. And yes, again the Eureka washed over him, the yes-yes-yes of it. He would use his past—and the Archduke’s past, and the whole endless past—to inform the future.”
– John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

Colin thinks a lot about the future, and here he does it again but with the memories of Katherine in one hand and his ideas for his theorem in the other. Even as he tries to makes plans for the future, he stumbles on his past—it’s as if he can’t escape being a child prodigy and a Katherine-dumpee.

It takes the whole novel, but at the very end, Colin realises he can’t predict the future, and he can’t let his past mistakes stop him from living it.

In that moment, the future—uncontainable by any Theorem mathematical or otherwise—stretched out before Colin: infinite and unknowable and beautiful. “Eureka,” Colin said, and only in saying it did he realize he had just successfully whispered. “I figured something out,” he said aloud. “The future is unpredictable.”
– John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

See my post on Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars here.

See my post on Green’s novel Paper Towns here.

See my post on Green’s Looking for Alaska here.

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