An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Published: 2006, Dutton Juvenile
It rather goes without saying that Katherine drank her coffee black. Katherines do, generally. They like their coffee like they like their ex-boyfriends: bitter.
I'd like to note first how absolutely ridiculous this book is. Colin is all of eighteen years old and he's "dated" nineteen girls (well, eighteen actually) who all happen to share the same name with same spelling. Even though a lot of his relationships lasted only a few days or even less, I find it hard to believe that someone like Colin would have had nineteen experiences with girls in general, let alone all girls with the same name. He's portrayed as super nerdy and not terribly attractive and frequently unaware of how to act around others. I felt the need to suspend my disbelief of Colin's characterization just a little bit for this book.
I do think, however, that Green is aware of the absurdity of his book and does poke fun of it. I enjoy when authors are self-aware of the type of book they wrote. A lot of the book's humor focuses on Colin's prodigy tendencies (like his compulsive need to create anagrams for everything and his burning desire to perfect The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability), so parts of reading the book felt like I was part of an inside joke. So that made it a little better for me and made me realize that I didn't need to take everything in this book quite so seriously.
In terms of characters, I can admit that I didn't really like any of them. I found myself amused, frustrated, touched, and confused by them. Colin and his best friend Hassan in particular seem to be larger-than-life characters. And the story itself seemed that way many times. But I loved how it is the small town of Gutshot, Tennessee that brings a smidgeon of reality down upon the story, and that through their isolation from "modern" society Colin and Hassan are able to acquire more humanity. Although I was not overly fond of either character, I liked their friendship and how well they balanced each other out.
I did empathize with Colin's personal journey through the book. Basically all of his conflicts and decisions stemmed from the fact that he is afraid of the future, of not knowing what will happen next. Lately many of my friends and peers, myself included, have had similar existential crises. It's a scary thought not to know where life is heading next. Colin knows he is going to college, but the basic tenets of his life have still been called into question. Although it takes Colin a long time to reconcile any personal doubts, I think that his final revelations are wonderful and wrap up the book in a completely believable way.
Despite the overall themes and messages (which I enjoyed), this was not the book for me. I'm not really into humor or absurdities, and this book is rife with them. I'm not sure if that's Green's normal writing style, or if this book in particular just demanded him to write in this fashion.