Allison's Book Bag

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Posted on: March 12, 2014

The year after high school, Colin is looking for three things: a Katherine, a workable theorem, and a best friend. Sounds intriguing, right? Too bad the premise of An Abundance of Katherines is far-fetched and its execution is sometimes dull. As for the main characters, when they aren’t boring themselves, they’re kind of obnoxious. There are some bright spots in this Printz honor book by John Green, but sadly they are far too few.

The premise is that Colin has been dumped by nineteen Katherines. Hence, the title of the book. And so now Colin wants to find another Katherine. Not a Kathy. Or a Katerina. A Katherine. I’m not sure why. To get dumped again? How does anyone even know that many Katherines? It’s a silly premise, although the idea of being dumped multiple times is in itself a serious one. Unfortunately, it’s also an idea almost as old as creation, which means I am only going to read two hundred pages about the woes of being dumped if there’s more to the story.

Green does attempt to integrate other subplots, such as: a road trip, an unexpected job of interviewing townsfolk, and a new love interest. Unfortunately, none of these work well enough. Colin and his friend make a detour to a small town in Tennessee known as Gutshot, where they are inexplicably invited by strangers to stay for dinner and are then hired for a summer job. The latter could conceivably make for an interesting twist, but it ends up feeling like a string of haphazard anecdotes. As for the new love interest, it’s a cliché idea. Also, Lindsey feels like a milder version of Miles’s flame in Green’s Looking for Alaska. Plus, she’s no Katherine. 🙂

Speaking of reinvented characters, Colin feels a tad bit like main character Miles from Looking for Alaska, in that he’s a self-absorbed nerd. The two even have a geeky quirk: Miles loved to memorize famous last words while Colin gets a kick out of turning names into anagrams. Of course, if Miles and Alaska worked once, why not recycle them in a second book? As long as Green can be original about it, the more power to him. Except for one problem. I don’t like Colin. Oh sure, both he and Miles are searching for the meaning of life. However, Colin’s search seems far shallower. If he can find a theorem that will predict the outcome of dating, he believes this will give him a place in the world. Whatever. Admittedly, I did at times recognize some of Colin’s traits in the likeable nerds in my life, which made me somewhat empathetic. Unfortunately, he often bordered on being pretentious. Whether this was a deliberate choice by Green or not, I don’t know.

How to respond to Green’s characters was a problem for me throughout the book. Am I supposed to laugh at or feel sympathy for Colin’s narcissism? What am I supposed to think about his best friend, an overweight Muslim teen? He’s overweight but seems comfortable with his size, and he claims to be religious but doesn’t mind lying, drinking, and feeling up a girl. Am I supposed to like him or not? Lindsey is one of the other significant characters, whom eventually it seems we’re supposed to view as mixed-up as Alaska from Green’s first book. Yet for the most part, she just seems like a bored small-town girl who enjoys going steady. With a guy whose name coincidentally is also Colin. Last, there are the people whom Colin and friends interview. At times, they come across as stereotypical small-town hicks. Are we supposed to like them, or not? I couldn’t decide.

There were a few bright spots. Ironically, Colin’s flashbacks to his long history of Katherines actually made for a more interesting read than Colin’s day-to-day encounters. Also, the scene in which Colin and Hassan try to fend off a wild hog is hilarious enough that I almost want to recommend An Abundance of Katherines. Unfortunately, too much of the story is overly flippant and uninspired for me to like.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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