Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: September 1, 2006
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 6 to 8, 2013
My rating: (3.5)
Summary: Katherine V thought boys were gross. Katherine X just wanted to be friends. Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail. K-19 broke his heart. When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.
What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable?
This is my second John Green book (the first is Looking for Alaska, for which I will write a review after this one), and honestly I didn't like it as much as I did Alaska. They are totally different, and I think I prefer the Alaska kind of mood to this comic one. But this is not to say that Katherines isn't a good book; it is a good book, but just not one that will compel me to gush about it forever.
In John Green's second novel, Colin Singleton, a "washed-up child prodigy," just gets his heart broken by K-19, which is the starting point of this whole novel. All his life, Colin's love interests have been all named "Katherine" (the exact spellings, no variations)—he explains this somewhere in the story that once he got together with the second Katherine, he felt like he wanted to keep the streak (forgive me if my memory is wrong; after all, "you don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened," to quote John Green). The best friend, Hassen, a "fatty" and "not a terrorist" (hahaha he always says funny things), thinks it will do him good if they go on a road trip together, because, well, road trips are awesome, right? On the way, Colin sees this poster that says Archduke Franz Ferdinand's corpse, which started WWI, is buried in Gutshot, Tennessee. And because Colin is Colin, who has interests in everything (actually, the book says he doesn't "know from boring"), they go see it. And Gutshot, Tennessee just might start a new chapter in his life, one that doesn't involve any more Katherines, but one that will see Colin comes to terms with his high expectations of himself and others.
I think John Green did a really great job in crafting compelling characters. Like in Alaska, the characters in this book feel so real, so alive, so likeable and relatable in ways big and small. Colin is a unique human being who is miserable most of the time because of the pressure he puts on himself. I understand where he's coming from; always wanting to be better than what you already are, because "good" isn't enough to be remarkable. It's scary, don't you think, to think that you've got something to offer, but that talent is "lodged" with you "useless" (to quote John Milton), because so far you haven't offered anything yet, and you don't know if you'll ever be able to do something about it. It's scary! And it eats at you, this pressure you put on yourself. To think that it is bad for me, I know that it must be worse for Colin, because at least he has a ground on which he can always assess his "matterness." A child prodigy, now teenager Colin expects himself to be even more than that, but not all child prodigies grow up to be or geniuses or necessarily remarkable. This Colin quote: "I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters. I just want to matter" speaks to me quite personally, and I'm sure it speaks to a lot of other people as well, as it wraps up this feeling of wanting to be more so well.
But to say that Colin is my favorite would be totally wrong, even if I do like him. Hassen, I have to admit, is the most colorful character in the book. If you know me personally, you might know that I don't cope very well with boredom. Boredom is lethal to me, it chokes and suffocates me (which is the main reasons why I abandon a lot of books), and most of the time I don't stick with books long enough to discover the not-boring parts. But Hassan, he colors everything. Any scenes with him never failed to crack me up, and I totally mean it. Books don't usually make me laugh out loud; chuckle, maybe, or snort, but not laugh out loud, and that's exactly what Hassan made me do. My mom asked me if I was alright, because I laughed long and hard and intermittently. Hassan is the best. And I would totally love to have a friend like him in real life. He just makes everything better.
I will say this again in my review for Alaska because this thought originally occurred to me while I was reading it, but I'll also say it now to make my point: John Green's writing skill is clearly excellent. So excellent that sometimes some passages would strike me, like as soon as I read them I know it's what I've been feeling but didn't know how to put into words. Still, all the time I was reading Katherines, I could feel the absence of something, only I didn't know what it was until the book ended: this book, for me, is not so much plot as characters, and I don't know if that's good or bad. I would love more plot, though, to hold it together better. And I didn't like the ending. So abrupt, and a little contrived, if I may. But overall an enjoyable read. And who'd have known that math could be associated or interwoven with something so hilarious and fun?
This review is also posted on Goodreads.