Monday, August 14, 2006

Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Poor Colin Singleton. He's been dumped by 19 Katherines in a row, and the last one, Katherine XIX, was special. Moreover, he's just graduated from high school and he's afraid he won't live up to his potential.

Why, you might ask, might a high-school senior not live up to his potential? Well, Colin is "special." He's a child prodigy who speaks a ton of languages, remembers almost everything he reads, and anagrams each and every phrase or word he comes across. Dad and Mom have made sure their son has had the best of everything, including one-on-one homeschooling in addition to a prestigious school, "geek" camps each summer, and a steady does of inadvertent parental pressure.

Fortunately, Colin is lucky in a way he doesn't appreciate at the beginning of the novel. He has a rockin' best friend, a Lebanese-American, regular-type gifted kid named Hassan. Hassan scoops Colin off the floor of his bedroom and takes him on a roadtrip.

Colin and Hassan don't get very far. They end up staying in Gutshot, Tennessee, working for a woman who owns a tampon-string manufacturing plant. There they find the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (I LOVED this), meet a cool girl named Lindsey Lee Wells (daughter of the factory owner, Hollis), and Colin begins working on his great Katherine Theorem. In other words, he tries to predict, by designing a mathematical theorem, who will dump whom and when.

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green's second novel, is a hilarious and compelling read. Told from Colin's point of view (with the help of a compassionate narrator here and there), the novel is full of spectacular, but true moments like the following:

  • "When you spend your entire life in and around the city of Chicago, as it turns out, you fail to fully apprehend certain facets of rural life. Take, for example, the troubling case of the rooster. To Colin's mind, the rooster crowing at dawn was nothing more than a literary and cinematic trope. When an author wanted a character to be awoken at dawn, Colin figured the author just used the literary tradition of the crowing rooster to make it happen."

Colin grows up over the summer, while working in Gutshot. And, so do Hassan and Lindsey Lee. Even though Colin is "different," his struggle is a universal one. He wants to be special forever, and he has to come to terms with the possibility that he may turn out to be just ordinary.

An Abundance of Katherines is a fun, perceptive, and hilarious novel. It's one of my favorites of 2006.