Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘John Green’

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green


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.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


WARNING. If you are the type of reader who becomes embarrassed when you realise you have been laughing aloud on the train while you read, then don’t read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green in public, because there is nothing worse than getting to the sad parts, and gulping, sniffing or outright sobbing while your fellow commuters look at you in amusement.

Anyone who isn’t familiar with this young adult novel has probably been living under a rock for the past year.

However, for those who do live under a rock, or who don’t read youth fiction, you are missing out. The Fault in Our Stars is deservedly a best-seller and the movie also very successful. Give this book a go and see if you don’t laugh and cry too.

Hazel Grace is the main character in The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel is living with a terminal cancer when she meets Augustus at a Cancer Kid Support Group meeting. Augustus had a leg amputated from cancer, but is at the meeting to support his friend Isaac, who is about to lose his eyesight following surgery to prevent further spread of his cancer. (I know it all sounds morbid and gruesome so far, but trust me, it is not).

Hazel and Augustus share a sarcastic sense of humour and quickly become friends. Their voices are a lot more grown up and articulate than I expected from 16 and 17 year olds, but in fairness, due to their illnesses, they live in an adult environment. I asked my 12 year old niece, S, who recommended this book to me, if she understood everything in the book, and she said she did, although I suspect a lot of the humour and references went over her head.

Hazel has a favourite book, An Imperial Affliction, which Augustus reads to please her. An Imperial Affliction ends suddenly, leaving unanswered questions, which Hazel is desperate to know the answers to. Augustus tracks down the book’s author and starts an email correspondence with him. Eventually, the author invites Augustus and Hazel to visit him in Amsterdam. Augustus uses his ‘Wish’ from a foundation who grant wishes to sick children to take Hazel to Amsterdam.

Hazel and Augustus travel to Amsterdam, accompanied by Hazel’s mother, to meet with the author. When they arrive they learn the visit was arranged by the author’s assistant, who thought it would be good for him, but the meeting turns out to be a disaster. The author is an alcoholic who does not want to answer Hazel’s questions about his book’s characters. They all become angry with each other, and Hazel and Augustus leave feeling disillusioned.

Up until the visit to Amsterdam, Hazel avoided romance with Augustus, not wanting to leave him hurting when she dies. In Amsterdam though, they become lovers, and Hazel learns that Augustus’s cancer has returned and that it is terminal.

This book is everything a story should be, happy and sad and funny and like all good books, left me feeling inspired by the characters, who were clever and courageous. (Hazel and Augustus were much more than just that, but going on and on about their qualities gets boring).

Perhaps my niece S understood more of The Fault in Our Stars than I thought, as while I was reading her copy I found a note she wrote which said, “page 139. 2nd paragraph. Favourite bit. Start of sentence: We stared at the house for a while.” The paragraph goes on to describe how from the outside, houses look as if nothing is going on, but inside, we live our lives.

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