An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I like clever--and clever books...even better. John Green's An Abundance of Katherines strikes me as the kind of clever young adult readers like. Beyond the clever, An Abundance of Katherines is a fun coming-of-age story.
We following protagonist Colin Singleton on his summer journey with best friend Hassan Harbish. They climb into a car and begin another very American tale: the hero lighting out for the territory. Modern tongue knows it as "the road trip."
Their road trip bears the weight and expectation of helping Colin heal from a recent dumping. Over the course of his life, he has dated (1) nineteen consecutive girls named Katherine...and only ever remembers being the Dumpee, and not the Dumper.
Colin's defining characteristics drive his teen angst: intelligence and promise. Most recently, math consumes his attention as he works on a Theorem to help explain himself, or at the very least, explain his story. He intends to create a Theorem that explains the arc of failed romantic relationships--and he hopes to be able to predict the ending of any one relationship in the future. To test his math, he continues to plug in the circumstances of each and every Katherine who ever dumped him.
John Green writes in an Afterword that he has never been good at math, yet has always been interested by it. He recruited the assistance of a friend and math genius to compose accurate and real formulas as they pertain to Colin's machinations (2). Throughout the graphs, charts, and rough drafts of formulas, the reader is kept apprised of the progress of the Theorem.
Math can connect some dots, as can story telling--which is just as prevalent a tool for Green as math.
Colin and Hassan agree to a summer job where they record the stories of the citizens of an old Tennessee town only years from being snuffed out by the economy. The numbers just won't work anymore. The only remaining industry in town is failing and can only keep the town afloat for a few more years. The citizens don't know it--Colin and Hassan don't know it--but the recording of the memories serves to preserve the town and they way things once were...all while Colin struggles to come to terms with his own memories of nineteen doomed relationships.
Colin's developing formula is in a way a record of the memories of his failed relationships--something which seems impossible to calculate. It would appear to be much easier to write a formula that predicts the end of the town's relationship with its citizens. (3)
An additional treat, Green uses footnotes as way of adding author commentary (and humor)...as I've imitated here. I found this another way that Green embedded numbers into the fabric of story telling...as I said earlier, clever.
And I liked clever.
An Abundance of Katherines is clever and entertaining in its use of numbers and story telling--that much is true. Yet, like relationships, An Abundance of Katherines stands strong because it is more than math. As Colin learns, relationships are about much more than numbers--they are about people.
And people, unlike numbers, are very unpredictable.
1. "dated" is a loose term as we are counting girls all the way back into elementary school
2. His friend explains the math at the end of the book. None of it made sense to me even though I read his explanations and enjoyed them.
3. This doesn't happen. I'm just saying...
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