“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” – Colin Singleton
How many people go through their lives every day wanting to be told that they are special, that they are unique, that they are gifted? This idea is a driving force behind many people’s lives, and I believe it is for this reason that our society is infatuated with the idea of super heroes, the reason athletes are coveted and celebrated, and the reason celebrity status is so highly regarded. We each want to be someone who is viewed as unique and special. But rarely do we think about the consequences of these labels. In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines the reader gets a glimpse inside the life of a recently-graduated teen named Colin Singleton who has been labeled a child prodigy since he started reading at the age of 2. The problem is that Colin is trying to find his “Eureka” moment where he will be able to shift from prodigy status to full blown genius. It is here that the reader sees the pressure put on a gifted person, and the negative impact that pressure has on their development as a normally functioning human being.
Like many of the other novels I have reviewed, An Abundance of Katherines is a tale of a young man searching for an understanding of self. His search for self-worth is what moves the story along, but it is his nerdy, awkwardness that makes his story intriguing. Due to his constant focus on becoming a genius, Colin does not function well in society, and he feels an inordinate amount of pressure to find meaning in his “Eureka” moment. Luckily, his friend Hassan Harbish, a fellow nerd who is not nearly as mentally driven as Colin, is there to help him cope with the outside world and the rigors of daily teen life. As the story progresses, Colin learns to deal with his self-imposed pressure and discovers release in a new environment outside of his norm.
The big theme in this book that was most impressive was the idea of being yourself. The idea that going through life trying to please everyone around you or trying to be something that you are not will lead to a lack of self or an unstable and unhappy existence. When Colin and Hassan go on a last minute road trip to get Colin away from his most recent ex-Katherine (he has only ever loved Katherines), they meet a girl named Lindsey, who is the embodiment of a lack of self. She “chameleons” through life, constantly changing her personality based on those around her, and, as she interacts with Colin and Hassan, she reveals these traits and shows a lack of comfort in her lifestyle. The story also highlights her development as a character and it is her personal revelation that I find to be the most compelling aspect of the book and also the one portion that teens need to hear so badly.
I would recommend this book for grades 10 and up, due to some more mature ideas and content represented in the story and those age groups need that maturity to properly digest the ideas Green presents. I really think it is a topic that teens need to hear about and those age groups could use that insight into their psyche as they navigate high school. For Lit Circles, you could pair it with Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted, and Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. All of these books deal with the idea of fitting in and going against what the main character has known or acted up to a point in their lives. I enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines, but it definitely wasn’t a big favourite for me. I still feel The Fault in Our Stars is Green’s best work, but Katherines is still a good read.