‘An Abundance of Katherines’ is an early John Green novel with all the hallmarks that make him so popular with teen readers. It has a road trip, a socially inept male protagonist, a dream girl, a token crazy best friend, a girl who comes to save the boy from himself and teach him something about life, and in the end the boy and the girl sit down and have a long, meaningful talk where they explain the moral of the book (in case you missed the last fifty pages).
It is charming and funny. However, it’s difficult to muster any patience for the main character, Colin. Colin is a prodigy who goes through a crisis after graduating from high school, afraid that he won’t be the smartest anymore. Obsessed with perfection, he craves approval from his girlfriend Katherine, constantly making her tell him, “I love you.”
When she dumps him, Colin’s best friend Hassan drags him along for some road trip therapy. Meanwhile, Colin attempts to come up with a theorem to predict the course of relationships. They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where Colin develops a crush on Lindsey Lee Wells — which is problematic, because he only dates girls named Katherine. Together, they probe the secrets of Gutshot and of life. Hilarity ensues.
‘An Abundance of Katherines’ is at times roll-around-laughing funny. At other times, you may feel yourself wanting to scream “First world problems!” at the main character. Colin is extremely difficult to like, which doesn’t necessarily make a bad book. However, he’s also extremely difficult to read about and “live with” for the entire novel. The worst part is that he never learns that his breakup with Katherine was largely due to his selfishness. She tells him, “You don’t want a girlfriend. You want a robot who only says ‘I love you.'”
Instead, he finds a different girl who is less “perfect” to comfort him. Instead of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Katherine, Lindsey is brown-haired, brown-eyed and has a big nose. Their relationship is cute until you realize that it’s not about their relationship at all. It’s about Colin learning to become more “normal” by dating a girl whom he hasn’t idealized. Lindsey is a female plot device. Colin doesn’t forgive Katherine and move on; he seems to “learn” that he was never good enough for her in the first place. In the end, he is happy with not being unique.
‘An Abundance of Katherines’ is a funny book. If you’re looking for a short, quick read and some laughs, it’s a good choice. For anyone interested in math, it also has an appendix explaining some of the equations Colin uses. It has its flaws, however, and the long talk explaining the moral in the end is absolutely yawn-worthy. 3 stars.