Friday, October 17, 2008

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Title: An Abudance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Literary Fiction
Grade: A+

Book Summary (From Back Flap): 19 Katherines and counting... When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is 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 over-weight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictibility, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and may finally win him the girl.

Review: It's as if when John Green was writing this book (circa 2005), he looked forward into time, read my review of Looking for Alaska, and decided to heed my advice. Green has masterfully balanced the esoteric and the accessible, perhaps an oxymoron to some, but an ideal to people like me who have confidence in the librarians and high school English teachers of the free world. Let me break it down for you...

Green tells a tale of high school friends who take a journey together and as we know, as intelligent book readers, that a road trip is never simply a road trip--it's (always) a journey of discovery and growth. On said journey road trip all of the characters--Colin, his friend Hassan, and Lindsey (who isn't even on the road trip per se, rather they lodge with her and become her friend on the trip)--discover a lot about themselves. The bulk of discovery centers around our self-perceptions and the impact we have on the world at large. This makes for a great story and a great moral lesson for readers of all ages.

Additionally, Green has enhanced his dialogue and prose, becoming more adept with his second novel. There were particular scenes that made me laugh out loud (literally laughing with noise, not figuratively in the LOL sense of the term). I will provide an example of one such scene for you:
"SOCT [Short One Chewing Tobacco] jumped on TOC's [The Other Colin's] back then, and for a brief moment, it seemed the fight might be a draw. Then TOC grabbed SOCT by one arm and threw him halfway across the graveyard, leaving Colin [Singleton] and TOC standing more or less toe to toe.

"Colin began by employing a strategy he'd just invented called the 'windmill,' which involved windmilling his arms around to keep his attacker at bay. The strategy worked brilliantly, for about eight seconds, until TOC caught hold of his arms. And then TOC's square, reddened face was inches from Collin's. 'I don't want to do it, dude,' explained TOC with a remarkable calm. 'But, you know, you made me.'

'Technically,' Colin mumbled. 'I kept my promise. I didn't say anyth--' but his thoughtful explanation was cut off by a fast-coming kick. In the moment before the strike, Colin felt it in his loins--phantom pain--and then TOC's knee came up into Colin's groin so hard that Colin briefly left the ground. Flying, he thought.
On the wings of a knee. And then, before he'd even fallen, Colin vomited."
That is some picturesque language; granted, it's a crude scene, but if you can evoke emotion in a scene where a guy get's racked so hard he throws up, that's saying something. This is classic Green (Can it be described as "Classic" if the guy only has his third published novel coming out today?).

What Green has changed up from his last book are the lifestyles and language of his characters--thereby increasing the likelihood that this book can be incorporated into public school (and perhaps parochial school) curricula for mass consumption. There are lessons to be learned and they can be more easily accessed than those that were in his previous novel.

Let me tell you something about the language choice, in full disclosure. The book constantly uses the term "fug" (or some derivative of such) in lieu of other choice language; it actually occurs so often that I was thinking it was getting to be a little much. But Green goes all purposeful on his readers and has the protagonist exposit for the benefit of the readers about how Norman Mailer used the term "fug" in a similiar fashion to have his book be in a publishable format. I kind of love when authors admit that their work is influenced by other fabulous writers who have gone before them and that all books are really compiled to be one great big piece of world literature, influencing and being influenced by others.

Additionally, I like that Green strengthened Colin so that he was able to not get mixed-up in the prosaic antics of recent graduates--Hassan dallies in this, but comes around to realize that he doesn't need to discard his convictions. Nice little sub-lesson of this story without having to be too over-the-top morality tale. It fits within the context of the story.

One thing that has led some reviewers to give Green a less-than-stellar review was his prolific use of mathematical formulas and footnotes throughout the text. I'll admit at the beginning that I was kind of struggling with how to integrate the footnotes into the reading--do I read the footnote when it's referenced in the prose or wait until I'm done with the page and read them all at once? At one point I thought, "These are just confusing, I'm going to skip them;" however, I found that I couldn't--they were like a siren calling me to read them and further understand. Then I came to where I loved the footnotes because it reinforced your friendship with Colin--this is what talking to Colin is like, he provides lots of seemingly unnecessary tangential information so that you see how everything is connected. It also helps you develop a deeper affinity for Hassan and Lindsey because they deal with the conversational "footnotes" on a regular basis. It was a good writing technique that actually allowed this book to be a little out-of-the-box (dare I say, "novel") in it's writing style and was purposeful--a manifestation of the character.

This book earned an A+ rating from me--nothing I would change. Granted, at first, I was like, "This book isn't nearly as good as Looking for Alaska," but in hindsight (having finished the whole thing) this book was better--stronger characters, stronger writing, stronger story.


mari said...

I actually really liked the footnotes and the math. It works because of who Colin is.

Great review, by the way. :)

Kelly said...

This one's sitting on my bookcase waiting to be read...I'll definitely check it out now!