This is my first John Green novel; I actually had thought that this was my first Green foray, but I realized that over Christmas I read Let it Snow, three interconnected novellas by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle. He was also featured in Geektastic, a series of short stories on being a geek–NOT a nerd. In both collections, I really enjoyed Green’s stories.
I’ve known about him for some time, as it seems that whenever he writes a book he either wins or is nominated for the Printz award (such as Looking for Alaska–the next book on my list). I’ve meant to read his books for awhile now, but for some reason they never made it to the top of my reading list. But enough with the excuses. I finally picked up An Abundance of Katherines, which originally caught my eye a long while ago as I was putting together a display of summer books at the library. Also, it tells the story of a road trip, which I’m always inclined to enjoy. My inclination was correct–I loved this, and I may or may not have gushed about it to my friends and family as I was reading it.
This is a delightful excursion into the mind of a teen prodigy who has almost simultaneously just graduated from high school and been dumped by Katherine XIX. No, she is not a member of an obscure European family (though one may or may not figure into the novel); she is, in fact, the nineteenth girl whom Colin has dated, each of whom was named Katherine (spelled that way, and that way alone). Other than their names, the primary similarity between them is that each one seemed to want nothing more than to make Colin’s life miserable by dumping him–most often unceremoniously.
Just after his final breakup, we find Colin nearly incapacitated from the newly cleaved holes in his stomach and heart where his relationship with Katherine had just been. Colin is a prodigy–not a genius–who has the desperate desire to matter in some fashion. He wants to contribute to society, to earn his place in history, but he just hasn’t found that niche yet. Throughout high school, he has earned excellent grades, starred on a quiz show, had a gaggle of girlfriends, and only one friend: Hassan. Colin and Hassan decide to embark upon a road trip before college, one that will help them to gain a little bit of worldly wisdom, but will also help to distract Colin from the wrenching pain that has seized his midsection.
The two friends leave Chicago and take to the open road, eventually arriving in Gutshot, Tennessee, where apparently the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is buried. Colin, a lover of all things history (and really, anything interesting) insists on seeing this apparently impossible landmark. And that’s where it all begins. They spend their summer in Gutshot, as Colin finally receives his inspiration to the thing which will make him matter: a theorem that will help him chart the path of any relationship between any two people, based on many variables. He does this partially as a way to understand what has happened to his love life, but also as a way to predict future relationships and potentially save him from such heartache.
I loved this book. Rarely have I identified with a main character to such an extent. I understand a lot of the pain he’s going through; I know exactly what it’s like to really be a romantic but to have my heart broken, to see any small object as a reminder of her, and to be so self-involved that I could not imagine how my circumstances might be partially my own fault. Colin is much the same. He is incredibly self-obsessed, not necessarily thinking that he’s God’s gift to the female gender, but simply in not comprehending what he might have done to deserve being broken up with. His theorem is a way to deal with this. Colin goes through some great changes: learning that neither love nor the future can be predicted.
Colin and Hassan have a great relationship–also one that I can identify with. They’re basically opposites, but they’ve formed a funny friendship Hassan is a big guy who takes little seriously and loves nothing more than to eat and watch Judge Judy from his favorite couch; while Colin is ultra-serious, interested in just about everything under the sun, and does not realize when he is boring someone with obscure information. That’s where Hassan comes in. They look out for each other, get on well without needing to talk a lot, and have a great rapport. I have a friend much like this; when we grew up we were inseparable, and was just as likely to lecture anyone who listened on the greatness of Star Trek to hear my own personal Hassan say, “Not interesting!”
I swear, there were some moments in this novel that seemed to be taken directly from my life. Not only was Colin a fictional, hyperbolized version of myself who hated math just like I do, yet was much better than me (I’ve even dated a Catherine…). I won’t go too much further, as I’ll reveal too much. Suffice it to say, this is a great book about life, love, and many mistakes; I laughed out loud often, surprising myself that a book dealing with Math would interest me. Road trip novels are great because, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Going Bovine, Sideways, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and many others, they place characters who are often stalwart or stagnant and thrust them into new situations in which they would generally not seek to find themselves. They also feature a good deal of introspection, with the aim at the characters “finding themselves,” coming to some sort of realization and growth. This achieves its goal in spades.
The next book I start will be Looking For Alaska, Green’s debut novel which won the Printz Award. I’m excited!