Sunday, April 17, 2011

AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES

Review of AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by JOHN GREEN


Never has a breakup been this hilarious. For inexplicable reasons, Colin Singleton finds himself frequently drawn to girls named Katherine. And then dumped by them. He has just been dumped by Katherine XIX, and, lost in self-pity, he allows himself to be whisked away on a road trip with his best friend, Hassan. They find themselves settling for a while in Gutshot, Tennessee where Colin, a former child prodigy, is determined to twist his devastation into something positive: he begins developing a mathematical formula that can predict the path of a relationship, including how long it will last and who will do the dumping.

Colin's voice takes this book from amazing to absolutely, incredibly amazing. He’s never a character and always a person. Even if the reader doesn't share his intelligence or interests, they will relate to his emotions. Anyone who has ever been dumped, or even rejected in any form, will feel for his circumstance and root him on in breaking out of this pattern.

Explicitly, the book deals with Colin's romantic relationships, but all nineteen are actually pre-novel, whereas his prominent relationship in the present (and for many years past) is his friendship with Hassan. Their dialogue proves that books can be as (or more) authentic than movies. Some novels can trip the reader up in imagining the character, setting, or specific gesture, but in ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, I had a clear image in my head for every conversation and action.

So what about this math? Yes, there is math in the book. In fact, Green took every effort to ensure Colin's math makes sense, and the book is sprinkled with footnotes clarifying formulas and graphs. Do not be alarmed! Green also took every effort to ensure you don't have to be interested in math to like this book. Most of the footnotes actually aren't math related, but rather emphasize the vast trivia Colin knows. This isn't boring trivia either. A lot of it is pretty funny, and you'll probably find yourself telling your friends! In fact, most of the really detailed math has been relocated to the back of the book in the appendix. The actual story focuses on Colin's revelations about why his current formula isn't working. Math is the only way he knows how to analyze relationships, both on a global and personal scale.

Colin's ultimate revelation isn't hard to predict, but I doubt surprising the reader is the point. This is Colin's story, after all, and it's a story about a prodigy's journey to understand what a lot of people around him have figured out already. Not that I'm going to tell you what that is!

Let me emphasize how hilarious this book is: not only did I laugh out loud dozens of times, but I even found myself looking around a room, cursing the cruel world that there was no one nearby to share that last side-splitting line with.

The characters are lovable and laughable. The writing is witty and wise. The relationships are complex and colorful. AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES is no doubt an exceptional novel.

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