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An Abundance of Katherines ~ John Green

August 26, 2009

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Dutton Books


ISBN: 9780525476887

I made a discovery, recently, had a eureka moment, if you will (or even if you won’t). There are books that are for adults, books for teens and books for kids. For the most part, books are written geared toward those who need to learn shapes and colors, those who need to learn how to stop lusting after the popular boy and those who need to learn how to tune out their self-absorbed bosses. I was so pleased when I came up with this, the idea that books in sections at the store covered specific periods, specific problems. Why even have a section for self-help books when our fiction is so clearly oriented to each of life’s issues by age?

Well, see, then there was a problem.  John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines sort of defies lines. Before you say, “Oh, well, that’s because it’s about that awkward bit of time between the end of high school and beginning of college and it just seems to fit in everywhere”, I’ll tell you to kindly stop. It is not simply that it is a different approach to the old coming of age saga; it’s that it is a whole new story to start with.

Our charming protagonists, Colin and Hassan, exude a fratty vibe that is not usually as suavely and casually applied to the bottom rung nerds but they pull it off. Hassan (a smooth talking, college drafter) decides Colin (your run of the mill child prodigy, valedictorian) having just coming off of the bitter end of his nineteenth relationship (all maintained and subsequently ended by Katherines) needs a road trip.  Hopping into Colin’s car, Satan’s Hearse, at the end of high school, their only goal is heartbreak healing; their only destination is out of Chicago.

When they are derailed by a tourist trap (Gutshot, Tennessee: home of the burial site of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria) they are roped into that inevitable plot twist that “changes everything” and shakes up the snow globe.

Ok, so it doesn’t sound all that different from anything else on the shelves but it is. Colin’s former prodigy status failing to result in pre-adulthood greatness is a constant source of worry for him. His other concern, aside from being plagued with a best friend and other acquaintances with what he sees as zero drive toward Meaning, is that he is very close but not right on top of a theory by which he can predict the life span of a relationship. This will not only explain his past heartache and prevent any further romantic interest but also catapult him into genius status, ending his endless bumping along as a washed out kid star.

While the title problem of the Katherines and, really, relationships, is played out well, it is not the deeper focus. The all encompassing issue, I think, is the question of mattering, of making something out of life. Here is where the unconventional approach kicks in. I find that most YA, children’s and even adult books focus on the very thing Colin’s prodigious past leads him to fixate on: Be Great or Go Home. Normal isn’t ok, in essence. Of course, if this is the point being mocked, you can bet that the moral of the story is that everyone, child prodigies, college-bound road trippers and cubicle dwellers need to take a big deep breath. Often, we become so wrapped up in reaching for the stars that we realize we’re already way past the moon.

Green writes in a realistic but funny voice that captures that ephemeral place between high school and college where fading senior wisdom is giving way to a more adult doubt that lingers long past the first day of orientation. As someone well out of age-range for the target of YA, I found myself making a mental list of all of my peers who would be getting this for Christmas. I’m sure that it does speak to a younger audience but that is the beauty as it also speaks to my generation and should speak to those older.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2009 12:48 am

    For some reason, this one just didn’t work for me. It’s my first book by John Green and I normally love YA, but I couldn’t get into this one. Ah well.

  2. August 27, 2009 8:51 am

    It sounds really well done. I’m not usually a YA reader, but I may have to give it a try.

  3. stacybuckeye permalink
    August 27, 2009 6:15 pm

    I’ve had this on my wish list. Great review.


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