An Abundance of Anagrams

Review of An Abundance of Katherines

I know, I’m a little late on the train for this one, but I finished Green’s An Abundance of Katherines at the weekend and I feel I ought to review it, seeing as it’s a book that has divided Green fans. Granted, I am not a Green fan (unless you count Hank, who I have actually met when he performed at Leaky Con London…but I digress) and it’s been a while since I read a YA Contemporary, but this means I am left with an outsider’s view of An Abundance of Katherines. This is my first Green novel, and this is my review.

Why did I pick this book up, you may be asking. Because of the concept – a formula/theorem for predicting relationships? Fascinating. A boy who keeps dating/being attracted to the same name? Possible! 19 Katherines? Oh, I know a lot of Katherines*!

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.

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.

Plot

On the face/blurb of it, An Abundance of Katherines is a road-trip novel. Boy is sad, so goes on road-trip with his best friend to forget the girl. But no, actually, it’s not a road-trip novel. Boy and his best friend stop at the first place that remotely interests them, get jobs with the lady who pretty much owns the town and stay there for 80% of the novel. I wonder if Abundance would be looked at differently were it titled something else, like ‘Gutshot’.

In the end, though, it’s a romance novel if you look at it the right way. There are two intertwining romance subplots between the characters. Seems that nowadays the male and female leads in most YA contemporary are turned to romance. I’m sure the book would have been as interesting and engaging without the necessity for romantic interest – especially since Colin must accept that he’s just been dumped by the love of his life. It’s not so easy to look for love so quickly.

I enjoyed the plot, even if not much happened in the overall. Yes, it was slow to begin with, but I did not feel this detracted from the book. I read through the slower chapters with the right amount of necessary speed, and the later chapters were dynamic enough to warrant a slow build up. I enjoyed what I read, but there were times that I wanted to put the book down – purely for the slow build.

And let’s just say that a good number of the plot twists, as minor as they seemed at the time anyway, I predicted. Though, that might be a writer’s force-of-habit.

Characters

Lindsey was by far my favourite character – partly because she’s representing the female population of this novel, but also because she’s the most real and has the most changing facets of a personality. She even explicitly at one point admits that she acts differently when she’s around various different people – complains about it, in fact. That’s something to which I can relate. I think it’s mentioned about once that she’s actually hot. Reviewers have complained that she’s a stereotype, but I disagree. She’s gone through her own transformations already. Besides, I never imagined her as hot. Bleached blonde hair and thin, yes, but I grew up in a girl’s school where about 60% of the years 7-11 populace fitted that description and only 10% of that lot were ‘hot’. Most just look like they’ve fallen into a bucket of cheap makeup.

Now…a lot of reviewers have cited Colin’s mopeyness/whining/general-Colin-ness as one of the main reasons they didn’t like the book. I liked Colin. Yes, he’s intense, and I can see how people would find him a pain, but he’s actually a very sympathetic character. When you grow up as a gifted** child, particularly one like Colin, whose prodigious nature plateaus and does not lead to a ‘genius’ status, you find it difficult to adjust to the nature of the world. You’re trapped inside your own mind because you can’t even put into practise all of the ideas clustering the mind. Green does well to illustrate this through Colin’s behaviour.

If, however, in reading this book you may suffer from social anxiety or relationship insecurity (have a hug – this is way more common than people will admit), Colin’s internal monologue can be triggering at times. In one of Colin’s flashbacks, for instance, he recalls his latest breakup – from Katherine-19 – where she effectively breaks up with him because he is worried about their relationship and the fact he hasn’t had a eureka moment yet. Yes, this is rather shallow of Katherine***, who should really have been comforting Colin at that moment and caring about his sadness. Colin can’t help but worry – and to have a character break up with him for worrying can make others more insecure of their own emotions. Just saying.

Would they?

Writing Style

I’m not sure why Green felt the need to represent swear-words by ‘fug’ and its derivations. Sure, the characters’ origin of using that word instead of swearing is explaining in libris, but it basically was swearing, and one just knows that everybody is making the transliteration of letters in their heads. What I’m saying is that, even for a YA novel with a male protagonist, there was too much swearing. It got repetitive. I’m not the only one who thinks this, by the way.

And, in case there was ever any wondering, I didn’t find the book funny, but this is not a negative point. I don’t know if Green wanted the book to be funny (Hassan’s role is the funny Supporting Character, but it is likely his inability to make me laugh out loud is deliberate), but it had some quiet smile moments, along with those quiet sadness and contemplation moments.

My verdict? Interesting. I like the maths, the anagrams, the prose style, the characters – but, ultimately, it’s not a book that I would recommend to everyone. As shown by the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, it’s not something that will appeal to everyone.

3.5 stars

*Whether you think I’m being serious or not here, this is genuinely one of the reasons I picked up this book. As Colin is to Katherines, I am to Christophers (and Katherines).

**Colin exhibits both academic giftedness and emotional giftedness, though not enough that he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. Colin is clearly socially able, just socially inept, especially having grown up without the proper Working Memory Model template of how relationships work from parents who pushed him to be academic rather than social. However, this is a review about the book, not a review of Colin’s (and similar real-life gifted children’s) parents’ parenting style.

***Reviewers have commented on Colin’s ‘irritating’ propensity for Katherines, but surprisingly few have commented on the personality of the Katherines themselves. Colin makes them more, uh, vicious than they probably are (labelling them as straight-up Dumpers is not a good start, mate), but even so, the Katherines described in the novel are generally not nice people, who string along Colin, get his hopes up, and pull him down again a week later. Katherine-19 was even cruel when she was small Katherine The Great. Whilst his ill luck in love is relatable, the negative focus is rather on Colin reacting there, instead of on the Katherines acting towards the breakup. Reader problems.

Hmm, this index should be titled ‘In Defence of Colin(s)’.

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