The Feats of Strength are an integral part of our annual Smugglivus Tradition. In the Feats of Strength, we each dare each other to read a book that we know is so far beyond the other’s comfort zone as to put it in another galaxy altogether. It is more than a mere Dare – it is a Feat of Strength.
Author: John Green
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Penguin USA
Publication Date: September 2006
Ebook: 272 Pages
When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washedup child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy–loving best friend riding shotgun—but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: Ana luuuuuurves John Green (this was the first book of his that she had read and reviewed) and she made me do it. Smugglivus. Feat of Strength. You get the picture.
So. I’ve made an important discovery – my own Colin/Archimedes style “Eureka!” Moment, if you will.
But before I get there, let me start at the beginning.
Ever since reading aloud a newspaper headline at the ripe age of two, Colin Singleton’s life has been defined by his status as a child prodigy. But Colin is a child prodigy that has grown up fearing that his prodigiousness will never reach fruition to true genius, and that he will never make an impact on the world (or, at least, he will never be famous). He also has suffered a pretty rough streak, dating-wise, having been dumped nineteen times by girls named Katherine. See, Colin’s particular brand of prodigy is obsessed with languages, codes and anagrams, and the name “Katherine” (spelled only this way, not with that nasty “C”) floats his boat; he’s only dated – and been dumped by – girls named Katherine.
His last Katherine (Katherine the XIX) was his Great One, and after nearly a year of dating and furtive kisses in her basement and exchanging “I love you”s, Katherine XIX dumps a beleaguered Colin right after graduation – leaving him miserable, puking, and generally heartbroken. In order to gain some perspective and a measure of sanity, Colin agrees to a road trip with his best (and only) friend Hassan, a smart, funny dude who is perfectly content to sit on his parents’ couch and watch Judge Judy for the rest of his life (despite having been accepted – and deferring for a year – to university). The odd couple – a fat Arab kid (Hassan) and skinny former child prodigy with a Jew-fro (Colin) – hit the road, stopping in a small town called Gutshot, Tennessee when they inexplicably see a sign for the burial place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the slain Austro-Hungarian noble whose assassination sparked the first world war).
It is here, in fair Gutshot, that An Abundance of Katherines lays our scene. Hired by an extroverted businesswoman named Hollis and her intriguing daughter Lindsey Lee, Colin and Hassan take a summer job interviewing elderly folks that have lived in Gutshot and worked at Hollis’s factory (which, interestingly enough, makes tampon strings). Here, Colin has his own Eurka Moment and works on his new theorem to predict the life cycle of a relationship – what he believes is his sure ticket out of obscurity. It is here in Gutshot that Colin learns how to come to terms with his incredible self-absorption – his history with Katherines, and his burning desire to become something more than a failed prodigy.
An Abundance of Katherines is a strange, quirky little book, replete with graphs, formulae, footnotes, different languages, and anagrams galore (because Colin loves anagrams). I easily fell into the book, enjoying its cleverness and the structure, alternating the realtime story (Colin post-breakup and his road trip with Hassan) with Colin’s memories of his past, both as a child prodigy, and of his past romances with Katherines. More than anything, An Abundance of Katherines is Colin’s book; a character study of a brilliant young man that, despite his ability to read and memorize multitudes of data, really doesn’t have a clue. In fact, Colin is kind of a self-absorbed douche – but he comes to realize this over the course of the novel, and grows into something a little more palatable. Moreso than Colin, I loved his best friend Hassan (his humor makes the book, in my opinion), who goes through his own character arc (and is the one person who is able to tell Colin when he’s being a douche in my FAVORITE scene of the whole book).
While I enjoyed the style of the book and John Green’s writing and I can see why people enlist in his nerd fighter army, I inexplicably found myself getting…bored by the 100 page mark of the book. But before you start throwing rotten produce at me, allow me to explain. The character growth is wonderful. The writing is quirky and fun and cool. The insights to teenagers and contemporary life as a young adult are spot on.
And yet…I found myself thinking, “so what?”
Which leads me to…
From my experience with An Abundance of Katherines, I can highlight three morals, or learnings:
1. I truly liked the way this book was written. Quirky, fun, with GRAPHS and MATH (I love graphs and math! Econ major in the house, whatWhat?!), and well-developed characters. Even singularly self-obsessed douchebaggy nerd Colin managed to become a likable character by the end of the book (and THAT is a feat of storytelling, dear friends).
2. I like John Green. The aforementioned writing was fun, and obviously, John Green flies his nerd flag loud and proud. As a fellow nerd (more of the chameleon-ish Lindsey Lee type), I can appreciate that.
3. I don’t feel any urge to go out and read more contemporary YA or John Green. Despite the fact that I LIKED the book (despite the getting bored), it didn’t really resonate with me. My vision didn’t get all misty and slo-mo like when Captain Kirk locks on a love interest and I didn’t hear the BIG MOMENT music playing in the background. I feel none of the urges that most people do to run out and buy John Green’s entire backlist. And this confused me, so like Colin, I sat and pondered WHY this might be.
And then, Eu-fugging-reka.
The reason I feel the way I do is because my boat isn’t floated by awesome characters without awesome storylines, or omphaloskepsis.1 I need more story with my characters; more tension and higher stakes and explosions and intrigue and trippy plotting!
I guess my big eureka moment is, like Colin’s, something that I should have known all along. I’m a plot kind of girl. I thought An Abundance of Katherines was quirky and quaint…but it’s just not quite my thing. I should note that this is my own personal preference (personal failing?); I intellectually know that this is an awesome book. It just isn’t the book for me – like Katherine the XIX and Colin, maybe I’m just not compatible with this type of book (or with contemporary YA in general). That said, I’ll pick up more Green and contemporary YA in the future though, because who knows? Maybe my own predictive theorem of What Makes Thea Love A Book will be revised.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:
The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath. Colin had always preferred baths; one of his general policies in life was never to do anything standing up that could just as easily be done lying down. He climbed into the tub as soon as the water got hot, and he sat and watched with a curiously blank look on his face as the water overtook him. The water inched up his legs, which were crossed and folded into the tub. He did recognize, albeit faintly, that he was too long, and too big, for this bathtub-he looked like a mostly grown person playing at being a kid. As the water began to splash over his skinny but unmuscled stomach, he thought of Archimedes. When Colin was about four, he read a book about Archimedes, the Greek philosopher who’d discovered that volume could be measured by water displacement when he sat down in the bathtub. Upon making this discovery, Archimedes supposedly shouted “Eureka!”  and then ran naked through the streets. The book said that many important discoveries contained a “Eureka moment.” And even then, Colin very much wanted to have some important discoveries, so he asked his mom about it when she got home that evening.
“Mommy, am I ever going to have a Eureka moment?”
“Oh, sweetie,” she said, taking his hand. “What’s wrong?”
“I wanna have a Eureka Moment,” he said, the way another kid might have expressed longing for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
She pressed the back of her hand to his cheek and smiled, her face so close to his that he could smell coffee and makeup. “Of course, Colin baby. Of course you will.”
But mothers lie. It’s in the job description.
You can read the full excerpt HERE.
Rating: 6 – Good (although really I cannot give this a real grade because I KNOW it is good, I just didn’t particularly click with it beyond the quirky/fun level)
Reading Next: Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
- Greek for that ancient introspective practice; or, as Ana put it so perfectly in an email, “Thea, you don’t get turned on by character navel-gazing” ↩