An Abundance of Katherines


John Green




Date Reviewed:

January 25, 2021

while back, I read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and I was quite impressed. I decided I should try another novel written by Green, to see if he had produced any additional marvels. An Abundance of Katherines seemed to have an abundance of positive reviews, and the cover says it won a Michael L. Printz award for excellence, so I checked it out of the library. I guess I expected too much. Green writes a sold story, but it is not a book that you are going to urge a friend to read.

Green excels at creating characters that are interesting. In this book, the reader meets teenaged Hassan Harbish, a bright, overweight practicing Muslim who has plenty of amusing insights and self-deprecating humor. Alas, Hassan is a slacker, he has no ambition beyond graduating from high school. The reader is also introduced to the beautiful Lindsey Lee Wells, who lives in a Tennessee town with the unlikely name of Gutshot. Like Hassan, Lindsey professes to have no ambition, (though she is training to be a paramedic), she would be content to live out her life in this backwards Tennessee town of Gutshot. After all, Lindsey's family owns the local factory that employs most of Gutshot. Lindsey is rich, no need to push herself. Both Hassan and Lindsey, upon initial introduction, don't sound interesting (Lindsey is first spotted reading a magazine called Celebrity Lifestyles, and clearly only empty-headed people waste time with nonsense like that!), but as the reader gets to know these two characters, they turn out to be quite endearing.

Unfortunately, the protagonist of An Abundance of Katherines isn't Hassan or Lindsey, but the young prodigy Colin Singleton (I.Q. of 200). I'm not saying Colin is awful, but Green fails to create a wholly likeable character in Colin. For someone who is supposed to be brilliant, Colin doesn't actually seem so smart. Oh sure, he can mentally create anagrams out of words, but that bit of cleverness comes off as Green using an anagram application on the web when writing this story. Colin is graduating from high school, and yet has already been dumped by nineteen girlfriends, all of whom were named Katherine. (For such a brilliant guy, why can't Colin figure out that he should try dating a girl with a different name?) Colin feels sorry for himself, whining about all the rejection. But some readers went through high school without ever enjoying a girlfriend, so it is hard to feel pity for a guy who has had nineteen of them. Colin speaks eleven languages. He apparently spends so much timing studying that Colin never finds time for games - at one point the teenager who loves anagrams claims he has never played Scrabble.

Colin once appeared on a quiz show called Kranial Kidz and won first prize - $10,000. He seems to think this makes him wealthy, yet even in 2006 (when An Abundance of Katherines was published), ten grand wouldn't even be enough to pay for a college education. How can a smarty-pants like Colin not realize this? Despite his single appearance on Kranial Kidz, Colin is recognized for the minor celebrity he is in Gutshot, Tennessee. Uh, sure.

What annoyed me most was Colin's focus on creating a Theorem that will explain dating. He tries to draw a timeline for how long he dated each of the Katherines, and then plots how happy he was in the relationship as a function of time until the inevitable breakup. But this is nonsense. For example, Colin plots a curve of his time with Katherine XIX. But this curve is based on the fact that she is the nineteenth Katherine he dated, his theory seems to be that if he hadn't met the eighteenth Katherine, then his relationship with Katherine nineteen would have followed the trajectory of his relationship with the eighteenth Katherine - his Theorem is based upon what order he meets each Katherine, it does not treat them as independent events. Also, all the curves shown in the book show smooth curves - when a breakup occurs, the line makes a smooth descent to the X axis. Yet when a breakup occurs suddenly, unexpectedly, the line would not be a curve, but an abrupt step function to zero - one moment Colin thinks he is happily in a relationship with a Katherine, minutes later he has been dumped. This would be graphed with an impulse response, but that never appears in his formula, despite hours and hours working on his math. The more Colin obsesses over this silly Theorem, the more ridiculous he seems.

Hassan and Colin go feral pig hunting with the Tennessee locals. They wander out into the wilderness with Mr. Lyford. Mr. Lyford wanders off tracking a hog... and simply disappears from the narrative. What happened to him? Is he still out there hunting? It's a minor point, maybe I missed his return, but it bothered me.

Green adds a bunch of footnotes to the text, and these are often amusing, or at least interesting. The story is told in third person. An Abundance of Katherines was interesting enough to finish, but do I want to read more by John Green? Hmmm. I did indeed enjoy The Fault in Our Stars, maybe this book suffered from comparison? I see that Looking for Alaska is the John Green book that has the second most reviews on Amazon, after The Fault in Our Stars - if I do read another Green book, I guess I should try that one.

!!*** Warning. Plot Spoiler below ***!!

If Hollis really wants to help the citizens of Gutshot, she should shut down the factory and preserve as much capital as possible. It makes no sense to spend money buying supplies, paying business taxes, utilities, and shipping costs and running the factory, and then just bury the factory output. Sure, it gives the people a job, but Hollis calculates the money will run out on this scheme in 5 years. Close the factory, eliminate the expenses, and the remaining funds will last much longer - maybe the people of Gutshot can survive for eight or ten more years instead of just five. Why don't any of these brilliant people recognize this flaw?