Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Book Review Club

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

Okay, so this isn't about Ghana. And yes, I have experienced an entire blog-free month. I've been writing, see, and ...


Be sure to click the icon above for more reviews!

By John Green
Dutton Books, 2006

This is my first John Green book, after hearing about him incessantly for the past couple of years. He’s got a new YA novel out, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, that’s being celebrated right and left. Before I sank my claws into it, I felt a compulsion to read one of his earlier efforts.

AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES won a 2007 Prinz Honor and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Award. It deserved the recognition. Green did everything right: Compelling protagonist with interesting afflictions; a sidekick who is a funny, endearing guy as well as an observant Muslim (five years after 9/11, this was a godsend, so to speak); an offbeat setting; and a love interest with problems of her own.

Plus, there’s the voice. No wonder the young world is overrun with Nerd Fighters, rabid fans of the vlogs Green issues twice a week with his brother, Hank. Green is funny in that  intelligent, geeky way that gets under the skin of black jeans wearers everywhere. You can almost see the narrator of this book pressing his glasses to the bridge of his nose and holding court at Starbucks.

On behalf of protagonist Colin Singleton—a child prodigy who just graduated from high school and fears the rest of the world is catching up with him—the narrator laments that one seldom sees a want ad like this:

Huge, megalithic corporation seeks a talented, ambitious prodigy to join our exciting, dynamic Prodigy Division for summer job. Requirements include at least fourteen years’ experience as a certified child prodigy, ability to anagram adeptly (and alliterate agilely). Fluency in eleven languages. Job duties include reading, remembering encyclopedias, novels, and poetry, and memorizing the first ninety-nine digits of pi.

That ad’s a fair description of Colin’s talents. What it does not say is that, starting in third grade, Colin has been dumped (more or less) by nineteen girls named Katherine. Our story begins just after Katherine XIX has followed precedent. With a summer to kill before college, Colin and his best friend, Hassan, set out from Chicago for a road trip. Hassan is a funny, “rather fat, hirsute guy of Lebanese descent” who never misses Judge Judy and isn’t sure he wants to exert the energy required to enroll in college.

They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, whose major tourist attraction is the supposed final resting place of Archduke Ferdinand’s disinterred remains. They take up with Lindsey, whose supposedly wealthy mother owns the factory that has kept the town going for generations. Hired to do an oral history of the town’s inhabitants, they move in with Lindsey and her mother. The summer’s revelations include a boar hunt and fisticuffs with Lindsey’s football star boyfriend.

Throughout it all, fearing that he’s a failed prodigy who will never “matter,” Colin slaves to prove a mathematical theorem that explains every one of his Katherine experiences and, he hopes, predicts the future of any and all love affairs. (Hey, there’s a Game Theory, right?) His goal is a workable Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. Lindsey helps in several ways. I’m not saying any more.

Although the novel is firmly footed in reality, some of its events drift deliciously close to magical realism. It has the polarized atmosphere you get with one of those lomography cameras—real, but slightly off.

I’m hooked.


Barrie said...

I read this book when it first came out. And was totally taken by it! It's so quirky and perfect. I couldn't put it down. I hope your writing is going well. I'm writing a lot these days, and, like you, am not blogging much. In fact, putting together the links for this month's book review and writing my own little review made me miss blogging. It's just so hard to fit everything in! Thanks for reviewing, Ellen!

Ellen Booraem said...

Yeah, I get into these states of mind when blogging just becomes impossible. I'm working on a bunch of things, but I always am so that's no excuse. I think I need to stop building it up in my mind.

Thank god you remind me every month--otherwise the blog would be empty!

Sarah Laurence said...

I'm a big fan of John Green, having read his other 3 novels in the past year, but I haven't read this one yet. This one didn't actually win the Printz Prize but was a Printz Honor book (meaning 2nd prize). His first novel Looking For Alaska won the Printz and was my favorite. I think I might have just revealed my own nerdiness in this nitpicking comment. You're right about his brilliant voice. Thanks for reminding me that I have another Green novel to read.

Ellen Booraem said...

Oops...I bungled the terminology, Sarah. I said "won a prinz honor" which probably is misleading. Should have said "was an honor book." Nerds rule!!

Rose said...

I don't read YA novels anymore, but I have heard quite a bit about John Green. Colin certainly sounds like an interesting character. Now you have me curious if he ever does prove his Katherine theorem:)

Ellen Booraem said...

Oh my goodness...can't imagine life without YA novels! All I'll say about the theorem is that the human factor ends up being considered.

Jenn Jilks said...

I forgot to look for the previous book you wrote about! Yet another!

Greetings from Cottage Country!