Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

My husband walked by as I was listening (and walking) to this audio version of John Green's An Abundance of Katherines. He asked what in the world I was listening to; to which I replied, "Oh, another curse-filled YA book." He then said, "Then, why are you listening to it?" and I had to reply that the only reason I checked it out was because it was written by one of the top-rated YA authors around these days - John Green. I have to do my research and attempt to discover what draws people to certain authors.

I will admit that John Green is an outstanding author, despite the fact that I could do without a great deal of the language, misbehavior, genital-obsessed dialogue and general trashiness found in his writing. He knows how to craft a decent story. Indeed, one the things I actually enjoyed about this book was his commentary on stories and on the importance we all have in sharing our individual stories. He made some excellent points. He skillfully crafts believable characters and realistic dialogue (perhaps a bit too realistic for me ... I'm aware that many young people out there drop F-bombs with every breath they take, but I find that discouraging). I continue to shake my head at the prevalence of filth and the fact that young people (and adults) seem to clamor for this stuff.

Colin Singleton is a teenage prodigy who knows he will never be a genius. Still, he wants to matter. He wants his life to matter. Moreover, he wants to get over the loss of his most recent girlfriend, the 19th Katherine in a long line of Katherines. His best friend, Hassan, suggests they take Colin's game show winnings and take a road trip to help him forget about the Katherine who broke his heart. Somehow they end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where a unique factory owner employs them in an oral history endeavor. Along the way, Colin meets an intriguing girl (not named Katherine), learns how to tell a good story, and makes his own story shine.

The story is worthwhile and definitely causes the reader to think about friendship, love, purpose, and meaning. However, I think it could have just as easily been told without the constant language (toned down, ridiculously, by using the word "fug" instead of the F-bomb ... and the author even acknowledges this as ridiculous because he mentions that their use of "fug" is a result of reading another author who extracted the F-bomb from his work and replaced it throughout with the word "fug," as a sort of "fug you" to the publishers who questioned his frequent usage of the curse word), the references to "thunderstick," and the graphic account of stumbling upon a naked girlfriend having sex with another guy. Why, oh why, is this what appeals to the general demographic these days? Have we sunk to the lowest common denominator? Do we really need to appeal to base appetites in order to sell good stories? Someone please explain to me why this is so popular? I just don't get it.

But, popular, it is! According to the Good Reads site, in the "Best YA Realistic Novels" category, the book ranks 19th out of 1,599 books according to 9,618 voters. Moreover, it was a 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. As an aside, when I tried to find out how popular this particular book actually is, I discovered on Green's own site that he considers this to be his least-selling title. He also mentioned that "it appeals to teachers and librarians because it is the way to teach and share my work that involves the least sex." Interesting.

No comments: