Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Abundance of Katherines

John Green is such a sneaky little cheater.  During most of the book, I thought that Colin, the protagonist of An Abundance of Katherines, had relatively unique qualities, such as his fondness for anagramming, his footnotes, and the fact that he dated 19 Katherines before he even graduated from high school.  All along however, he is grappling with the same fear as a character you might remember me talking about before: Augustus Waters.  Colin and Augustus base how much they matter on whether future generations will remember them, and both of them have to learn to appreciate the people around them rather than fear oblivion.  I'm starting to wonder if Mr. Green is grappling with that fear himself, considering that he's now written at least twice about it.  (I should note that An Abundance of Katherines was published before The Fault in Our Stars, so technically Augustus is the one copying Colin - even if I did read about him first).

Back to Colin's story.  Colin is a child prodigy, but not a genius, a distinction he clearly emphasizes.  Because of his affinity to go on boring intellectual tangents and general social awkwardness (which remind me also of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory), his only friend is Hassan, a slightly overweight and fun-loving Muslim who is (mostly) devoted to his faith.  After Colin's most recent breakup with Katherine XIV, Hassan takes him on a road trip to help him move on.  They end up with jobs interviewing factory workers in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet Lindsey Wells, who incidentally is dating another Colin.  You and I know where this is going.

Even though I have seen some of the book's elements before, I found its characters charming, relatable, and downright amusing.  John Green makes it easy to root for the people you're supposed to root for.  You want Colin to figure out the "Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability."  You want him and Lindsey to get together (because, duh!).  You want Lindsey to feel free to be herself.  You want Hassan to finally go to college.  The characters' exchanges of banter, bouts of insecurity, and moments of hilarity worm so subtly in your brain you're hardly aware of how invested you become in their journey until it's too late.  And I have to say it's pretty nice to have a book remind you that worldly fame and success is crap when it comes to valuing you for you.

Besides the heart, we have the quirkiness.  I mentioned the footnotes before, which in an academic context annoys me to no end, but they fit well in this book.  Colin already goes on verbal tangents, so why not do it on print, too?  There's even an Appendix in case you're feeling especially nerdy and want to know how the mathematics in the Theorem work.  Seriously, who does that?  It's quite fabulous actually.

When I am despairing at all the mediocre writing in young adult fiction nowadays (LOOKING AT YOU, TWILIGHT!), I like to remember that there are people like John Green who treat the genre as more than a source of trashy romance and superficial action thrills.  The Fault in Our Stars still tops my charts, but I believe An Abundance of Katherines has written its own personal signature on me as well.

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