Book reviews


I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green last year on the recommendation of my niece and really enjoyed it, but I have to say, I enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines even more than TFIOS (as the teen mags call the blockbuster book and movie).

The main character of An Abundance of Katherines, Colin Singleton, is a child prodigy, a fast learner, and a champion anagrammer who also speaks multiple languages. Colin has other talents too, but he is also a social disaster. Somehow, (and this was the only sticking point of the whole novel for me), Colin has gone out with and been dumped by 19 Katherines by the end of High School. At the beginning of this novel, Colin has been dumped by his 19th Katherine, otherwise referred to as Katherine XIX. (Although some of his ‘relationships’ with the various Katherines have been very short lived – a few hours in some cases).

So, my problem is that I have no idea how Colin managed to meet 19 Katherines, let alone go out with them all. Is every second girl in the United States of America named Katherine? I don’t even know 19 men named John, which is the most common man’s name I can think of. Here is my list.

1. John B, who was family friend of my great aunt, who died years ago. Obviously I didn’t go out with him.
2. John who worked with my husband, also known as ‘Shallow Hal’. Notice the use of the word ‘husband’ in my last sentence? I didn’t go out with this John either.
3. Lucky John, who I worked with (if anything went wrong, he was involved). Nope, I was married, so didn’t go out with Lucky John.
4. John V, who I also worked with, who is kind, funny and generous (and happily married). We’re both married to other people, so obviously not.
5. John B2, who is my sister’s fellow’s father, although strictly speaking, I have never met him. I hear so many funny stories about him I feel as if I do, though. (Our family are actually closer than this not-meeting implies, but my sister and her fellow and his family live in England and I live in Australia). Nope, we haven’t even met.
6. John someone whose last name I have forgotten, who I knew very casually through work. I’m not even sure if I would recognise this fellow again.
7. I can’t think of any more real John’s who I actually know.

My point is, Katherines are even less thick on the ground than men named John. And Colin is a geek. How did he persuade anyone to go out with him?

Anyway, on with the story. Not only has Colin’s heart been recently broken, he is in despair as he believes the specialness of having been a child prodigy is coming to an end. Colin recognises that he is not an actual genius, (apparently there is a difference between prodigies and geniuses, who knew?) and is worried that his opportunity to make a mark on the world has passed him by.

Colin and his friend Hassan, who is a Muslim Arab, (Colin is half Jewish), go on a road trip, partly to cheer Colin up and partly to get Hassan out of his parents house. Hassan deferred college to spend a year watching television and is in desperate need of a shake up.

They get as far as Tennessee, where they end up in a town called Gunshot to look at the tomb of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (whose death was used to start WW1). Colin is sceptical about the authenticity of the tomb, but he and Hassan are tired of driving. They meet the heroine of the novel, Lindsey, who is working behind the counter of the Gunshot General Store, when she takes them for the tour of the tomb.

On returning, they meet Lindsey’s mother, who recognises Colin from when he won a television quiz show several years ago. She offers Colin and Hassan a job researching Gunshot’s history and accommodation in her and Lindsey’s surprisingly palatial home, which of course they take. (Okay, this bit was also hard to believe, but the reader has to go with it, because the author gets to decide what happens in the stories we read. 19 Katherines? Okay. The mother of a girl you’ve just met offering a teenage boy and his mate a home and a job? Sure, why not, I’ll believe that).

While in Gunshot, Colin comes up with an idea for a theorem which tracks the relationships he had with his various Katherines. The theorem accurately shows how long each of Colin’s relationships lasted for, based on variables such as age, relative popularity and other factors. For people who are more mathematically inclined than me, this may or may not be interesting. I got as far as learning my times tables and no farther so will not comment.

Not to give the whole story away, but Colin has a few Eureka moments creating and furthering his theorem, and makes self discoveries which are very good for him. Lindsey is a good heroine and has a few adventures and learning moments of her own, and Hassan is a great character too. Between hornets, Thunderstick (you have to read about Thunderstick for yourself, I am not going to go into details here!!!), surprising items manufactured by factories and moonshine, I laughed a lot while reading this book.

I would certainly recommend An Abundance of Katherines right back at my older nieces, although the younger ones had best wait until they have finished with Mary Poppins and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, as this is an older teenager’s book.

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