An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Truthfully I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I have been a fan of Green’s book for a couple years now, but An Abundance of Katherines is the book I have heard the least amount of hype so I assumed it would not be as strong as say TFIOS or Looking For Alaska. Was I ever wrong.

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This book is told by the third person but it follows a teenager named Colin Singleton. As a young prodigy, Colin has been able to retain a lot of “useless trivia” that he has learned over his years of book reading (including but not limited to fluency in several languages, memorizing the numbers of pi, facts about historical inventors/geniuses, etc etc). A lot of the trivia didn’t matter to the story plot of the book, but Green included these timbits of information in footnotes to make an interesting “optional” read. I use quotations around optional because he uses footnotes as part of the form of the book. Footnotes are not imperative to the main content of the piece, but they give more information and insight to the subject. They give the reader an eye into the world Colin grew up in and into the mind of this child prodigy. Whether these footnotes are written in the voice of Green or Colin, they add another layer into the world that has influenced Colin’s mentality.

Because he has memorized all of these facts and finds all of them interesting, he is unable to filter which facts to share and which to keep to himself. His friend Hassan would censor him with the words “not interesting” to help him create a filter. Throughout his summer, Colin and Hassan listen to the stories of the citizens of Gutshot, Tennessee where he learned (with the help of Lindsay Lee Wells) there there are some stories and facts that are worth remembering. Colin has spent his life trying to remember every detail of his life and the facts in all of the books he reads because that is what child prodigies do. He becomes obsessed with remembering every Katherine relationship he has had in his life because he became obsessed with knowing the facts. What he fails to realize is that sometimes the smaller details in your life are not exactly as you remember them, no matter how smart you are. You may remember something in your life, but the truth may not be exactly what you remembered. You romanticize it in your own personal storybook. There are some facts and stories worth remembering and our memories will shape the way we remember our life.

Colin’s journey is something very close to my heart and the young adult generation – the need to matter in the world. His obsession to do something “great” is one of the biggest existential crises and something almost every person can relate to. His constant struggle has a nice arch and good pacing as he works on creating his Theorem. Although the development of the Theorem occupied Colin’s mind for the majority of the book, Green creates other events and circumstances to plague him and have them all return back to him and the Theorem.

Green also uses dialogue to help describe the environment and what is happening at that time. In the scenes in Lindsay’s hideout, it is strictly in dialogue. No description of their surroundings, no description of their actions, just the words coming from their mouth. This brings the reader into the blindness of their environment since it is pitch black in the cave. I am able to understand the darkness of the cave and the blindness of both Lindsay and Colin opening up their feelings and their vulnerability. It gives the new experiences they share (revealing secrets, telling the whole story, a new relationship) an air of mystery, but also maintain a sense of security by not being seen. They are able to expose themselves without feeling like they are completely “naked”.

As a fan of the vlogbrothers YouTube channel and after watching a lot of John’s videos, I can see a lot of John in this book. He has shared a lot of his own personal experiences with depression after a breakup. He is still somewhat unsure if the depression is a repercussion of the break up or if the break up was a consequence of the depression and this dilemma is vivid in Colin’s narrative. It is really cool how you can see the influence of John’s personal experiences in his writing. It gives his book that much more genuine flavour. If you haven’t seen any of his YouTube videos, I highly suggest you to take 4 minutes from your day and introduce yourself to John and his brother Hank.

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