An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

katherinesReading level: 8.1

Genre: Realistic fiction

ELL-Friendly: Mostly

Library recommendation: High school

Alright, folks. I’ve read Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Levithan) by John Green. I was not impressed by An Abundance of Katherines.

To be fair, the book wasn’t terrible. It was witty, funny, and generally engaging in that wonderful John Green way. But it lacked a lot that kept it from being great, in my opinion.

First of all, Colin, the main character, is clingy and needy. And he doesn’t really have any particularly redeeming qualities that allowed me to see him outside of being clingy, nerdy, and needy. The main conflict in this story, I suppose, is Colin struggling to create a theorem to predict and understand relationships. Quite frankly, I just didn’t care about the theorem. Maybe it was my aversion to math.

Aside from Colin struggling with the theorem and chasing after Katherine the 19th, interjected with a few specific problems throughout, there was no driving plot or issue. There was no urgency as there was in Green’s other stories. This book didn’t tug at my heartstrings like the others, either. John Green’s books have all had a profound impact on me to make me cry, almost cry, or laugh until I cried. At the very least, I was able to finish each book and look back very fondly upon the characters. Not so with An Abundance of Katherines. It’s all very typical – boy gets dumped, boy tries to get girl back, boy falls for another girl, boy discovers himself.

Something else I had a problem with was the perfection of Colin’s family. They were a well-off, supportive family living in Chicago (sound familiar, John Green fans?). The only parent/family member that posed a problem was Lindsey’s mom, which was more realistic but not a focal point. I’ve said this before, but perfect families in fiction annoy me.

This book would be okay for ELLs for the most part, but there are several words and phrases in different languages (Arabic and French for example). However, anything in a different language is explained. Words in a different language (in addition to English) might throw off some ELLs and other struggling readers, though.

There is also some swearing/slang. As far as swearing, there are the basic curse words and only one legitimate F-bomb. However, there is lots of “fug” and “fugging” said instead. While I don’t find “fug” to be offensive, some students/parents might. Plus there’s the plethora of other curse words throughout but not to the point that it was excessive by my standards. Teenagers swear, after all.

And of course the sex. It’s not too explicit but there is one brief, not-too-graphic scene. It’s nothing compared to what’s in Looking for Alaska, but it’s enough to definitely keep it off of middle school shelves. The sex scene in Alaska had a clear meaning, but the scene in Katherines didn’t have as obvious a purpose.  Perhaps the point is that the physical relationship between two people can mean little to them (as they claimed) but it cannot be taken lightly, and engaging in such activity connotates a sense of love/closeness that should never be written off as meaningless, even if it’s just for fun.

I also feel like I should mention Hassan, Colin’s friend who is Muslim. I learned a bit about his religion along the way, and I appreciated this glimpse into a new culture that isn’t often included in YA lit, especially books written by White people. I’m curious about Green’s purpose in making Colin’s best friend a Muslim. I appreciated this diversity but still found Hassan’s character to be annoying because he is lazy and rather selfish. Again with the lack of redeeming qualities. But hey, maybe it’s realistic.

To end on a positive note, I enjoyed that this story highlighted boys (and Lindsey) finding their paths and what is important to them. It’s sort of a coming-of-age novel to help teenagers know that their lives don’t have to be planned out or meaningful in the scope of the universe but that each life needs direction.

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