Review: An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

This book: it’s good! I mean, that’s not a huge surprise, I really liked John Green’s other books and occasionally drop by his blog as well. Seems like a smart kind of dude. Writes good stuff. But I was still a little bit surprised that I liked this book so well.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t seem like it’d be particularly interesting, somehow. I know that this book has been blogged about all over, but I’ll give a short summary: dude gets dumped by nineteen girls named Katherine, goes on road trip to Nowheresville Tenn with best buddy, finds adventure and himself and maybe true love and does some math, blah blah blah whatever. Honestly, it didn’t sound that interesting to me in the beginning. Here’s the official blurb:

19 Katherines and counting. . .

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an over-weight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun — but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and may finally win him the girl.

I dunno… it just doesn’t really grab me. But what the hey, right, it’s John Green, and I got it for Christmas, and so I read it, and it’s very well written and a fine book indeed. I quite enjoyed it, although I don’t think it’s as good as either Looking for Alaska or Paper Towns. There’s lots of complicated math that I don’t understand but still admire (and an appendix that explains some if it). There are many anagrams (“A rearrangement mash, Ya!” / “Remarry a manganese hat”). The tone is definitely more light-hearted than Looking for Alaska. It’s funnier. And still quite profound in spots, of course. I particularly like this passage, about stories:

Even Colin could only name a handful of people who had lived, say, 2,400 years ago. In another 2,400 years, even Socrates, the most well-known genius of that century, might be forgotten. The future will erase everything — there’s no level of fame or genius that allows you to transcend oblivion. The infinite future makes that kind of mattering impossible.

But there’s another way. There are stories. Colin was looking at Lindsey, whose eyes were crinkling into a smile as Hassan loaned her nine cents so they could keep playing. Colin thought of Lindsey’s storytelling lessons. [spoiler sentences redacted] And he found himself thinking that maybe stories don’t just make us matter to each other — maybe they’re also the only way to the infinite mattering he’d been after for so long.

And Colin thought: Because like say I tell someone about my feral hog hunt. Even if it’s a dumb story, telling it changes other people just the slightest little bit, just as living the story changes me. An infinitesimal change. And that infinitesmal change ripples outward — ever smaller but everlasting. I will get forgotten, but the stories will last. And so we all matter — maybe less than a lot, but always more than none. (p. 213)

See? That’s the kind of reason this book is more than just another YA coming-of-age novel. Because stories matter, and this story knows it.

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