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, washed-up 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.
My rating and review are based on a quote from Lindsey:
Lindsey sat up, animated by a new topic.
"Okay," she said. "Here's the thing about storytelling: you need a beginning, and a middle, and an end. Your stories have no plots. They're like, here's something I was thinking and then the next thing I was thinking and then et cetera. You can't get away with rambling. You're Colin Singleton, Beginning Storyteller, so you've got to stick to a straight plot.
And you need a good, strong moral. Or a theme or whatever. And the other thing is romance and adventure. You've got to put some of those in."
An Abundance of Katherines follows Lindsey’s storytelling advice pretty well. Maybe not in an entirely interesting way, but not necessarily in a bad way either… Can you tell I’m conflicted?
This is the second of John Green’s books that I’ve reread since I started writing reviews. For at least the first half, I was afraid I would have to write another review along the lines of ‘I must have misremembered everything Green has ever written‘ and ‘how could he do this to me, I love him.’ Thankfully, while I didn’t loveAn Abundance of Katherines, it certainly isn’t the bin fire that was Looking for Alaska.
Let’s address the problematic areas here.
‣Yes, Hassan is probably terrible Muslim representation [I’m not going to take that on, sorry. I’m not Muslim, and it’s not my place, but I can recognise that it wasn’t ideal]
‣Yes, Colin is probably on the spectrum, although this is not addressed in the narrative [Also not going to take this one by armchair diagnosing a fictional character]
‣Yes, Colin and Hassan both make terrible offhand comments that feel wrong in 2021 [well, pretty much 2022 at this point… but let’s pull up just one of many examples, shall we:
The girl also had—how to put this politely—gigantic gazoombas. She was incredibly hot—in that popular-girl-with-bleached-teeth-and-anorexia kind of way, which was Colin's least favorite way of being hot.
– so many problems here, from superficial judging of a stranger to using an eating disorder to describe a body type. I know this was all the rage in the nineties and noughties, but, thankfully, most of us are a little kinder now]
‣Yes, the comments about Hassan’s weight were unrelenting [this probably falls under the above bullet point – see note about the world being kinder these days?]
‣Yes, there’s a lot of math nonsense [I can’t actually address this because I just skimmed those parts. I didn’t read this book to learn anything, especially mathematics]
‣Yes, this story is so improbable that it would never actually happen – and I mean no aspect of it, from a seventeen-year-old dating and being dumped by nineteen girls named Katherine to a random road trip ending in a sweet job and free room and board from strangers [I don’t care – it’s called fiction]
‣And yes, ‘fugging’ is the dumbest word I’ve ever read a thousand times [I still don’t care. Stop fighting with me, imaginary review reader]
That was fun.
That's what I was thinking about before you came. I was thinking about your mattering business. I feel like, like, how you matter is defined by the things that matter to you. You matter as much as the things that matter to you do.
Thankfully, the narrative does turn a corner in the second half. Or maybe last quarter. Regardless, these characters, at some point, finally become more self-aware of their problematic personality quicks and actively address this in what I would consider an open, honest, and non-judgmental manner. If these conversations (Colin-Hassan / Colin-Lindsey / Lindsey-Hollis) had not taken place, I would be writing the dreaded ‘Green betrayed my adolescence‘ review. But the surprising maturity and self-awareness, in the end, saved it for me.
Because, as Lindsey made abundantly clear, our story needed a moral.