“Green follows his Printz-winning Looking for Alaska with another sharp, intelligent story… The laugh-out-loud humor ranges from delightfully sophomoric to subtly intellectual, and the boys’ sarcastic repartee will help readers navigate the slower parts of the story, which involve local history interviews. The idea behind the book is that everyone’s story counts, and what Colin’s contributes to the world, no matter how small it may seem to him, will, indeed, matter. An appendix explaining the complex math is “fantastic,” or as the anagrammatically inclined Green might have it, it’s enough to make “cats faint.” (Dobrez, 2006).
Ever since I first read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I have been a huge fan of his work. While this one was not nearly as deep or heavy as his other novels, I found myself loving it nevertheless. The book focuses on the story of Colin Singleton, a child prodigy with a particular love of math, reading, and creating anagrams from unusual words. Colin also has a very particular type when it comes to dating: namely, girls named Katherine. At the beginning of the novel, he has just been dumped by his nineteenth Katherine, known throughout the story as “K-19.” Feeling lost and heartbroken, Colin turns to his best friend Hassan, who suggests that the two embark on a road trip in order to forget their sorrows. They eventually end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, a far-cry from their home city of Chicago. There, the two meet Lindsey Wells, her eccentric mother, and her group of friends. Zany adventures ensue when Colin and Hassan are enlisted to help interview older residents of the town, finding themselves caught up in a world where stories are sometimes the best way to be remembered.
Like I said, I loved this book, though there were quite a few problems. For one, I would not recommend this book to a reluctant or weak reader, as its full of rambling footnotes, random facts, eccentric language, and enough graphs and math formulas to make your head spin. While I enjoyed the quirky style in which John Green wrote this book, even I sometimes found it hard to stay invested due to all of the math and rambling. For example, on one page there is an enormous footnote dedicated solely to the ninety-nine word sentence Colin created in order to help him memorize the first ninety-nine digits of pi (Green, 2006, pp. 63 – 64). While I found this relatively funny, I can easily see how some readers might find this boring and monotonous. Like other John Green novels, the characters are also very quirky and unique, which can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the reader. Colin, the main character, is a child prodigy, and spouts off random facts and figures at often inappropriate times. As the novel progresses, he slowly begins to develop his own math theorem to explain his failed relationships, and that’s just not something that most teens can relate to (though they can probably relate to either dumping or being dumped by someone). The most realistic characters in this book are Lindsey’s friends, who talk and act more like average teens.
That being said, I loved this book for several reasons. First, it is entirely funny, unlike John Green’s heavier novels (namely The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska). After reading so many books with heavy, dark themes, it was nice to take a break and read something zany and fun. While there is a bit of heaviness near the end (which I won’t spoil), the novel ends on a relatively happy note, with the characters exploring what it means to truly matter. Secondly, this novel features a character (Hassan) who is both a Muslim and slightly overweight, which is an extremely rare combination in young adult literature. And, while being Muslim, Hassan is not perfectly devout: while he follows his religion, he is also realistic in that he curses and sometimes bends rules, much like any other religious teenager might. One of my favorite things about him is that he is not defined by his religion, and is seen as being much more than the “token” diverse character in the novel. In fact, the sub-plot involving Hassan has to do entirely with him choosing whether or not he wants to go to college, as he tends to be (as he calls it) a “not-doer” (Green, 2006, p. 195). Hassan is both smart and witty, and I applaud John Green for including such a diverse character in his work.
As I mentioned above, this novel seems to revolve around the central theme of “mattering,” and of contributing things to the world that will be remembered. Colin struggles with this idea throughout the novel, making distinctions between geniuses (who create new things) and prodigies (who simply re-hash facts that everyone already knows). Colin desperately wants to be known for more than just being a child prodigy; he wants his accomplishments to mean something on a much larger scale. My favorite quote in the book can be found near the end of the book, as the characters are discussing storytelling:
“Even if it’s a dumb story, telling it changes other people just the slightest little bit, just as living the story changes me. An infinitesimal change. And that infinitesimal change ripples outward – ever smaller but everlasting. I will get forgotten, but the stories will last. And so we all matter – maybe less than a lot, but more than none” (Green, 2006, p. 213).
As an avid reader, this quote really spoke to me because I am often touched by the stories I read. To me, this is the entire purpose of reading, to share in someone else’s experiences and to be changed in some small way by the stories that we read. If I were an author, I would find no greater pleasure in life than to be the one who changes someone else, even if it’s only a little bit. I really loved the message that we “matter as much as the things that matter to [us],” as it has the potential to comfort teens who might feel the same as Colin does at the beginning of the book. I guess, in that sense, Colin is pretty relatable, as he dreams of doing something worthwhile with his life. Don’t we all? While I would have a hard time recommending this book for classroom use, it would be a great book for either a teen book club or a “quirky and funny” book display in the library. While it might not be the easiest read for reluctant readers, fans of John Green and unconventional storytelling will love this book; it certainly took me on quite a journey!
Dobrez, C. (2006). An Abundance of Katherines. Booklist, 102(22), 75.
Green, J. (2006). An abundance of Katherines. New York: Speak.