Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review #2: An Abundance of Katherines

This book has been on my to-read list for a while now, and I finally got around to reading it after borrowing a copy from my sister. I've heard a lot about John Greene, so my expectations were pretty high. This was another very quick read-- I finished it in about four hours. 

An Abundance of Katherines is the story of Colin Singleton, a recent high school graduate, genius, and lover of anagrams. He defines himself by two things: his above-average intelligence, and his obsession with girls named Katherine. He has only ever dated girls by this name. The story opens shortly after he has been dumped by Katherine #19. Depressed and confused, he embarks on a roadtrip with his best friend Hassan, a fat, Judge Judy-obsessed Muslim. They soon find themselves in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they befriend a girl named Lindsey and her mother, Hollis, who hires them to create an oral history of the town based on interviews with townspeople. As they work and form close friendships with unexpected people, Colin is also working on a theorem to explain his history of Katherine-related heartbreak. 

Although this book is definitely aimed at a teenage audience, it's really enjoyable for non-YA readers as well. I have read my fair share of YA fiction, and this book was incredibly refreshing despite its flaws. Green doesn't talk down to his readers--his writing is intelligent, creative, and genuinely funny. I really enjoyed how imperfect his characters are--although Colin is the narrator, Green characterizes him as slightly obnoxious and self-centered and actually succeeds in making him both unlikeable and relatable at the same time. I loved this, because I find that oftentimes YA writers try to portray their characters as perfect and sacrifice a lot of reality as a result (I'm looking at you, Stephanie Meyer). 

The plot is very predictable and more than a little implausible (Colin has no criteria for dating other than the girl's name be Katherine. Also, how likely is it that he would find that many to date?). However, Green's writing is clever enough that it makes up for it, and the story is really enjoyable as a result. 

The only thing that bugged me was that I felt like Green was trying a little too hard to be quirky at some points (probably a result of our post-Juno culture). Colin and Hassan use the Norman Mailer-inspired word "fugging" and it's derivatives throughout the narrative as their primary swear word, which becomes grating after a while. Colin creates anagrams out of everything. Hollis runs a factory that produces tampon strings. One or two of those details would have been cute, but including so many quirks took me out of the story at times. Green also uses footnotes throughout the novel as little asides to the reader, usually elaborating on some obscure piece of trivia mentioned by Colin. These are humorous and pretty interesting, but Green puts them on literally every other page, which was annoying. 

Overall, it was a good read. I was frustrated by some of the stylistic choices Green made, but I appreciate his efforts to do something new and different in the somewhat tired realm of YA fiction. This book was a refreshing alternative to Twilight and its ilk, and I imagine a teenager would like this book even more than I did. For adult readers, it's a quick and enjoyable read, if you can get past the overly-cute quirkiness. I've heard Green's other novels (Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska) are better than this one, so I'm going to have to borrow those from my sister as well. 

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