Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Book Review Club

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@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 ...


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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.