In the current world of literature, John Green has a habit of being synonymous with young adult fiction. A popular vlogger on YouTube (especially with his brother Hank and followed by fans called “Nerdfighters”), Green’s novels have become incredibly popular and for good reason. First published in 2005, with his debut novel Looking For Alaska — which I have read but had done so before I started reviewing books for Examiner — Green’s written work has won numerous and various awards and have thus helped push him to worldwide fame. Best explained by The Wall Street Journal, it is said that John Green has the credit of “ushering in a new golden era for contemporary realistic, literary teen fiction, following more than a decade of… young wizards, sparkly vampires, and dystopia.” Having read the wizards, vampires, and dystopia, I agree that Green’s work can be quite a breath of fresh air.
Because I fortunately discovered Looking for Alaska first, and subsequently purchased all of Green’s books once I completed Alaska, I chose to utilize a weird tactic of mine as I proceeded with them. I decided I would move forward with his books in publishing order. As such, my second John Green novel was the second published book: An Abundance of Katherines.
An Abundance of Katherines is written from the perspective of Colin Singleton, a “genius” living in Chicago who has dated nineteen young ladies named Katherine over the span of his lifetime. Having recently been dumped by Katherine XIX, with each Katherine discussed with a Roman numeral following her name throughout the novel, Colin is convinced by his best friend Hassan to take a road trip as a way to help Colin take his mind off things. On their way through Tennessee, they find the supposed resting place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (don’t worry, I don’t really know who that is either), and ending up making a pit stop in the small town of Gutshot. A pit stop that changes everything.
In my opinion, the story of Colin was fairly cliche — a guy that gets dumped and can’t cope. We spend the entirety of the novel following him as he tries to analyze every single relationship he’s been in, attempting to figure out a graphic explanation to his apparent incompetence with females named Katherine. In my notes, I called it “highly predictable.” While the background of some characters and the mathematical approach to relationships provide a hint of originality, the overall basis of the storyline is all too familiar. The ounce of intrigue is that John Green decided to utilize footnotes throughout the book.
Upon completing the novel, I also jotted down the fact that I didn’t feel like anything happened in this book. Sure, a handful of events take place in the town of Gutshot and Hassan reminds me very much of someone I know in real life, but nothing really substantial takes place. I would go so far to say that An Abundance of Katherines was a bit of a letdown and just a stereotype of small town country folk in Tennessee.
The only items of … “substance” in An Abundance of Katherines come from the handful of concepts and quotes that shine a light of truth to an otherwise boring and uneventful story.
The first was the “missing piece” — not only a book by Shel Silverstein, but something that Colin takes the road trip to go searching for. In the kid’s book by Shel Silverstein, the plot of the story as retold by Colin is described as a circle that goes looking for its piece, finds a lot of wrong pieces, and then finds the right one, but leaves it behind. While the prodigal genius was not able to see past the metaphors of this book when he read it, it is definitely one that stuck with me personally; the idea that we as humans have pieces of us that are missing, ones that we’re always striving and searching for. What really caught my attention, however, was the idea of leaving that missing piece behind once you find it. It’s not so much finding the piece to become whole again, but rather “finding the piece” as a way to learn about ourselves from the journey and only take away what the experience has taught us. And the idea that the particular piece you’re looking for could be an infinite amount of things or a concept (or even a person, without being possessive of said person), just seems to strike a chord within me to look for my own missing piece. It is one of the few inspiring passages of An Abundance of Katherines that I was able to find.
Secondly, the quote “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”, a thought that Colin has in regards to the supposed laziness of his friend Hassan. He continues the thought of how odd it is for Hassan to believe in God, that “God gave you life,” and yet he is baffled that Hassan does “not think that life asks more of you than watching TV.” While I don’t necessarily believe that a belief in God is required for justification, the idea of doing something remarkable is one I am always thinking about. I don’t believe it has to be some big production; if it is remarkable in your own eyes, I think that’s all that matters. As far as life philosophies are concerned, this one could have a lot of potential for readers looking for a textual epiphany.
While I cannot say yet how An Abundance of Katherines ranks amongst all John Green novels, I will say that it is not one of the higher ranking books I’ve ever read. It’s forgettable and fairly boring. I would give it a chance for the sake of saying you’ve read all of Green’s books, but I have a feeling it won’t rank as high as Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars for a lot of people. Hopefully the next John Green book for me to read (Paper Towns, which is being made into a movie as well) will have better luck.
Published September 21, 2006 by Dutton and Speak
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Learn more about An Abundance of Katherines on Goodreads