I finished this book last weekend, and keep meaning to write the review but I think the fact that it escaped me for nearly 5 days says a lot about my reading experience. But let’s start at the beginning.
Back for the CBR4 I read The Fault in Our Stars and like most of the other Cannonballers, I loved it. So, I decided to see what else this John Green fellow had written. Being me I needed to start back at the beginning so last year I read Looking for Alaska and while it was quite enjoyable, it was no TFiOS. But that’s to be expected from an author’s first novel. That’s why I started at the beginning of Green’s oeuvre, to give myself proper expectations by reading the author’s works in order; I would hopefully be able to trace his writing trajectory.
So, when I went into this year’s John Green read, An Abundance of Katherines I was expecting another quite to very good book. And, honestly, it was just okay. I gave it a three star rating over on Goodreads, but really its closer to a 2.5, and it only gets the extra 0.5 because of Hassan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
An Abundance of Katherines is the story of Colin Singleton and the 19* girls named Katherine he has dated in his short 18 years. But it isn’t. It’s the story of his breakup with K19 and the emotional aftereffects of said breakup. But it isn’t that either. It’s the story of Colin coming to terms with being a child prodigy who isn’t going to be a genius. But it’s not entirely that either. It’s the story of the road trip that he and his best (and only) friend Hassan take to help get Colin over the break-up/prodigy problem and Hassan’s untethered lifestyle in the post high school pre-college place he finds himself. And it’s a little this, but the road trip doesn’t last very long. What we find the story to be about is Colin getting over himself and perhaps finally falling for a girl not named Katherine.
I had some issues with the story, mostly in how Green decided to lay out the storytelling. The present we are spending with Colin is interspersed with his remembrances of the Katherines and his obsession with figuring out a mathematical equation that will allow him to predict the outcome of any romantic relationship. It cuts in and out and is generally unsatisfactory because instead of easily flowing from present experience into past recollection it instead is a rough cut nearly every time. Colin is also a tough character to root for and his incessant anagramming and various other prodigy ticks got in the way of connecting to the character. But perhaps my biggest gripe is that we don’t ‘meet’ the legion of Katherines until near the very end and it’s such a stretch to get 19* in that I feel the book would’ve been better if there had been only 9 or 10 Katherines. That’s still abundance, I promise.
Okay, let’s talk about what I liked. Hassan. And Lindsey. And the Oldsters in Gutshot. What Green always has going for him is that he can craft great characters. Colin is a well-rounded character even if he’s not a great protagonist, but the supporting cast in An Abundance of Katherines is what kept me moving through the book and not ignoring it for other titles. Hassan’s busting of Colin, as only a true friend would do, were some of my favorite parts. Those and the footnotes.
Yes, I said footnotes. Since we are dealing with a protagonist who is a prodigy there are things he knows that the common reader won’t. So we get footnotes to explain the conversations happening in other languages and the math. And the history factoids, etc. And those I LOVED. I’ve seen some reviews saying they couldn’t be bothered with the math bits, and to me that’s just lazy. The footnotes explain the math the way a non-math person would need them explained and it gave insight into how it fit into the book. You don’t need to be able to solve the equation that Colin eventually writes, but the Appendix explains how it was written and how it works and it was just plain interesting.
To recap – I’d say read this first in your John Green reading and not quickly after reading his other books.
*the 19 Katherines thing really annoyed me because there were only 18. He dated one twice. AND Colin was counting girls who he’d had relationships with which lasted mere hours. Now, I understand that middle school and high school kids tend to do this kind of thing, but it felt like such a stretch to get to the magical K-19 which I swear Green was basing off the story of the Russian submarine that it felt unnecessary and distracting. Really Colin of the no friends and bad rapport with your peers, you’ve had 19 girlfriends by age 18? Really? It just didn’t line up with who the character is in the rest of the book. End rant.