Katherine the Pretty Good

h1 November 25th, 2006 by eisha

An Abundance of Katherines An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.

I can’t think of any young adult novels published in 2006 that were more highly-anticipated than John Green’s sophomore effort, An Abundance of Katherines.  Hardly surprising, given all the critical acclaim and general reader-love he raked in over his first novel, the Printz-winning Looking For Alaska.  If you read the lit-blogs you probably caught at least one interview on his blog tour this past September/October (a seriously cool idea – I wish more authors would do that), or maybe saw a review or two.  Well, now Julie and I have both read it, and are ready to throw our opinions into the blogosphere, with another of those co-posting dialogue thingies we like to do.

{Quick summary for those who may need it: Colin Singleton, a former — and now jaded — child prodigy, has been dumped nineteen times by girls named Katherine. His best friend, Hassan, suggests they take a road trip to help Colin get over Katherine XIX. They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, the final resting place of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand — or so they read on a road sign, thus leading them there — and the home of Lindsey Lee Wells and her mother, Hollis. Hollis hires the two boys to record the oral histories of the employees of her textiles company. All throughout the novel, Colin — who is also anagram-happy — is determined to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability; he hopes this theorem will predict the future of relationships everywhere, avenge the world’s Dumpees, and finally win him some love in the realm of relationships} . . .

e:  Hey, J.  I’m going to start off by saying that, generally, I enjoyed this one.  There were some minor flaws, but it was quirky and funny, with a smart-ass sensibility that I dig.  What about you?

j: Yes, it was pretty good, as you put it in the title of this post. It’s not the one to read if you’re after plot (the Hollis and land-buying and textiles company sub-plot seemed particularly nowhere-going, but is it just me?), but the characters were its strength. I really liked Hassan (didn’t Little Willow do a Great Sidekicks of Children’s Literature thread? I thought of that when I was reading about him). I always think of teens — or I guess I can only think of me-as-a-teen — when I read YA titles, and like our other current read, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, I think teens will either love or hate this title, you know? Some will really dig the we’re-nerds-and-we-know-it-and-besides-nerds-will-one-day-take-over-the-world vibe goin’ on in Katherines (especially with the fun wordplay and all the theorems and such), and others will be turned off by that.

e:  Yeah, I agree on all three points:  1.) The side-plot with the factory could have been developed into something else or ignored completely;  2.) Little Willow did, in fact, have a Sassy Sidekicks list and Hassan would totally get my vote; and  3.) This book has a nerd-chic-ness that will not be universally beloved.  But hey, anyone who knowingly picks up a book about a former-child-prodigy who loves anagrams and tries to predict the end of a relationship with math is probably going to be okay with that.  And will love it for all its quirky goodness.

One thing that I was particularly interested in, that I haven’t seen referred to in a lot of reviews, was Hassan’s faith.  Green was a chaplain for a while, and made no secret that Alaska was heavily influenced by that experience.  So I was kind of on the lookout for spirituality in Katherines, but I was still surprised by how it turned up.  I really, really loved the way Hassan’s Islamic beliefs were treated – he seemed to be in a realistically-teenage experimental stage, holding on to certain core beliefs while testing his own boundaries on other fronts.  It was refreshing to see in a young adult novel, and I thought it gave a nice depth to his character.

j: Right on. I liked that, too. I’m currently reading Aidan Chamber’s TOME about Cornelia Kenn, and her character is similar in that way (as far as holding on to certain core beliefs and being nerdy-chic and a total original all at the same time), and I also find it refreshing. Gives principled, smart teenagers the credit they deserve — rather, gives teens like that something to read that they can relate to.

And on an altogether different note — and it’s hardly a Deep Thought — I liked how Green did moments of silence between characters, the ” . . .” lines. Neat device. And his dedication? Damn. Impressive. I admit I considered trying to come up with a super-keen anagram for Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, but that would take the energy and wits I didn’t have last week with two kinds of ailments and a sprained ankle. But I digress.

Oh, and speaking of Deep Thoughts, I’ll tag you with this one: Have you ever heard “shitsure” before, and did you not laugh out loud? I am deeply fascinated by slang and liked that, but then maybe I need to get out more??

Seriously, dude . . . what I really did like was how the book saved itself for me in the end. I think I remember commenting to you that all of the protagonist’s whining was starting to wear on me, but his epiphany in the end about how stories make us matter was really nice . . . Okay, tag for real now.

e:  ” . . . ”

Hmm?  Is it my turn?  Sorry, I was anagramming “Seven Impossible Things:”

“O bless, even pigs in Smith!”

“Bliss!  Thin gimp sees oven!”

Yeah, dude, this must have been a hard novel to write.  Mad props to Green.  He’s definitely in love with language, and it shows.  He’s got a great ear for dialogue, especially of the awkward teenage moment kind.  No, I hadn’t heard “shitsure” before – we grew up in a different part of Tennessee than fictional Gutshot, after all – but now I keep trying to find ways to work it into my everyday speech.  Also “kafir.”

And yes, I saw where you were coming from with the whininess complaint.  But I thought it was realistic, given Colin’s age (didn’t you totally freak out over breakups in high school?  I did.), plus he was an only child, plus he was a prodigy who had always had a lot of attention and had really high expectations of himself.  It’s funny, though, I wasn’t as sure about the “stories” bit at the end.  I liked it, because I like stories, but I wasn’t sure I believed it.  Everyone was having a helluva lot of epiphanies over those last few pages.  That, plus the “revelation” of what was really going down at the factory, made the end feel a little contrived to me.  Although my favorite Hassan line did come towards the end, after Colin’s eureka moment:  “Sometimes the kafir likes to say massively obvious things in a really profound voice.”

j: Breakups in high school? What’s that? That would have required dating. And I was a hopelessly shy and insecure nerd (maybe nerdy-chic, but probably more nerd). Not to mention my high school was literally in the middle of a cow pasture and the pickins were slim, but then that makes me sound like a hopeless snob . . . Anyway, that’s interesting that it felt contrived to you. I agree about the factory revelations — it was all a bit too Scooby Doo for me. But I felt like the other epiphanies (that stories matter; that the future is “infinite and unknowable and beautiful”; and, my favorite, the moment that was “thick with mattering” — when Lindsey and Hassan and Colin were walking to the Hearse for a Monster Thickburger trip) rang very true.

By the way, I’m way impressed with your anagramming of our blog’s title . . . I guess I don’t have anything more pressing to say. Here’s my most burning question for you, though: Did you actually read the math-heavy appendix? Duuuude, I was impressed by Green’s smart math genius friend, but the math portion of my brain simply does not exist, so I didn’t make it past the first page, I think.

Okay, hodag, I’m done. How about you? Thanks for chatting with me about the book. I always enjoy it. Since we’re both reading M.T. Anderson’s Octavian now, let’s do that next. But, not to change the subject — if you have more to add about Katherines, please do. I think I’m done, though. Good book. I still need to read his first. I’m glad I read some Green. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it . . .

 e:  Did I read the appendix?  Oh, goodness, no – I didn’t make it through the first page, either.  Math hurts me.  I’m pleased he included it, though – I’m impressed at the lengths Green and his friend went to to create a believable theorem.  If you go on John Green’s website, there’s a page where you can plug the variables for you and a significant other into a graph and see it in action.  I just tried it – apparently, Brad Pitt and I would have had a nasty, brutal, short relationship, even if he hadn’t shacked up with that hodag Angelina.

And I wouldn’t have minded the end so much if all the epiphanies had been Colin’s.  But (SPOILER ALERT!  Seriously, STOP HERE if you haven’t read it) Hassan also realized that he wanted to be a doer instead of a not-doer and decided to go to school, Lindsey decided dating TOC didn’t make her happy and neither did being a fake-popular girl… all within a few pages.  I’m probably being too picky.  I do that.  But you’re right, that last scene was beautifully written, and perfectly captured a very specific, rare, wonderful kind of moment.  It was a great The End.

And with that, I’ll say The End to this post.  Thank you, Jules, this was fun.  I’m anxious to finish Octavian so we can talk about it – I think we’ll both have a lot to say about that one.

4 comments to “Katherine the Pretty Good”

  1. Adding Hassan now . . . Done!

    What are the odds that he was the 18th name I added to the list?



  2. oooh, i like that one, too! anagramming is fun — when others do it and you see the results, that is. hee hee.

  3. hey, that is a good one. i shoulda left it to the automatic anagram generator…

    thanks, little willow. hassan is in good company, now.

  4. […] An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (seven impossible things before breakfast) (tags: john.green an.abundance.of.katherines young.adult romance comedy printz road.trip friendship tennessee math) […]

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