Colin is a child prodigy who fears he has already peaked and will contribute nothing of note for the rest of his life. He has had 19 girlfriends named Katherine and has been particularly burnt by the most recent break-up. In an attempt to save himself from future heartbreak, he sets out to determine an algorithm to predict the course and duration of romantic relationships, called the “Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability.” Colin’s best friend Hassam takes him on a road trip to break him out of his rut and their adventures cause Colin to reevaluate his life view.
To elaborate upon the math and other topics in the book, Green uses footnotes, which is something you don’t see every day in YA literature. The footnotes serve their purpose to provide further explanation and give the story almost a textbook, all-knowing feel which goes well with Colin’s cerebral character. Green says he got this idea both from reading textbooks in college and from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Here are Green’s thoughts on the purpose of footnotes and their place in fiction from his website:
“Footnotes can serve as a way of attempting to achieve that precision and clarity. But I think that at least on some levels, precision and clarity are in competition with each other.* As discussed in the novel, human memory is not in the accuracy business; it’s in the narrative business. Colin eventually starts to feel that when it comes to being understood, telling stories empathetically works best.
* Like, eventually footnotes and endnotes and footnotes-within-footnotes and so on in the ceaseless attempt to be clear in precisely what you are trying to say leads to the reader being confused and annoyed and altogether less engaged” (Green, n.d., Questions)
There is a strong sense of improbability bordering on impossibility in this story. For instance, as the author mentions on his website, it’s improbable that a child genius with limited ability to relate to others would have 19 girlfriends, it’s nigh impossible that all of them would be named Katherine (Green, n.d., Questions). A reader may write this off as hyperbole or an unrealistic portrayal. However, the author brings up an interesting point by classifying the book as magical realism (Green, n.d., Questions). In this light, instead of seeing these improbable events and circumstances as unrealistic, they instead can be viewed as a somewhat whimsical, overdone version of the truth.
By celebrating math, anagrams, and intelligence, the character of Colin could be seen as a nerdfighter. His interests are not mainstream, but instead of abandoning them and following the crowd, he delights in learning and making connections between ideas. The book focuses on his journey from being “book smart” to learning from experiences and human connection.
By using mathematical theories as a central theme in the book, the author encourages teens to explore topics outside their area of expertise. Green admits to being a poor math student. He even went so far as to choose his college based on their lack of a math requirement. However, he developed an interest in math later in life and chose to explore that interest in his writing (Green, 2006, Author’s Note).
Green, J. (2006). An Abundance of Katherines. New York, NY: Dutton Books.
Green, J. (n.d.). Questions about An Abundance of Katherines. In John Green: New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/katherines-questions/.