Unlike many of his fellow authors, John Green always intended to write books for young adults. "Most of the YA authors I know wrote a book and then were told it was YA, but I always wrote with that audience in mind," Green says. "I wanted to be a part of the process of broadening and deepening what it means to write for teenagers."
If critical acclaim is any indication, he has certainly chosen the right career path. Green won the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature for his first book, Looking for Alaska, a compelling portrait of the students at an Alabama boarding school. When he accepted the award at the American Library Association convention in June, Green says his parents brought along two books he wrote at the age of eight: It Just Isn't Fair, "about a nerd who gets ridiculed," and Me and Mitch Learned a Lesson, an "anti-bullying book."
Another bully appears in Green's new novel, An Abundance of Katherines, but he's a tiny part of a larger picture. The novel offers an offbeat, but ultimately wise, perspective on failed romance, even as it explores the challenges, hilarity and occasional moments of beauty on the path to adulthood. Green makes liberal use of footnotes and anagrams—which, in the wrong hands, might be distracting. Not here; instead, his sly asides and wordplay-centric plot twists make the story even more fun, and the anagrammatic dedication to his wife, Sarah Urist Green, is an odd yet touching work of poetry. A snippet: "Heart-reassuring/Signature Sharer/Easing rare hurts."
Though the couple lives in New York, the author spoke with BookPage from Chicago, where he and Sarah are spending a few months (she's working at the city's Museum of Contemporary Art). During an earlier stint in the Windy City, Green was on the staff of Booklist, an ALA publication, doing production and database management. "I was very fortunate that there was a great emphasis on everyone being book people, passionate readers," Green says of the experience. "I got the chance to review a lot of books, and it made a huge difference in my . . . writing life and reading life."
Green says he wrote An Abundance of Katherines while he was still working at Booklist, but adds, "it was really created after I left. The book took its form in revision." During that revision—Green estimates 80 percent of the words changed over several additional drafts—the novel assumed its final, unusual shape.
At the book's core is Colin, a recent high school graduate and former child prodigy who attempts to apply mathematical principles to his checkered romantic history. Colin is determined to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which will help him understand why he's been dumped by 19 girls named Katherine.
Colin's friend Hassan is a clever sort who gets impatient with Colin's mooning about, so the two teenagers set off in search of a little edification and a lot of adventure. They find it in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they befriend a girl named Lindsey and her mother, the local tampon-string factory owner who offers them a job and a place to stay for the summer.
Two obvious questions might be: 1. Tampon-string factory? and 2. Does the theorem work? Green says he knew a girl in high school whose father owned just such a factory, and yes, it does.
Getting the theorem to make sense was a bit challenging, so he sought the help of his friend Daniel Biss, a 28-year-old Green describes as "a genius, one of the best mathematicians in the world." (He's also an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and a research fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute.)
The two worked on the theorem together, starting with the idea that a relationship can be represented by a graph in which the x-axis represents time, and key events—a date, a vacation, a breakup—can be plotted track the relationship's highs and lows, beginning and end.
Green and Biss tested the theorem with their own ex-girlfriends as well as famous celebrity couples such as Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. "It's right 100 percent of the time," Green says. He emphasizes, though, that "I wrote [the theorem] to be beautiful. It's meant to be something to look at, with gorgeous clean lines. It was important to me to write a book a math idiot like me could enjoy completely without ever stopping to look at the math."
Green isn't selling short his YA audience, though. The author routinely hears from his teenaged readers, who are "an amazingly smart and interesting bunch of people. I've been really impressed by the quality of their thinking."
It is for those readers—as well as any mathematicians inclined to pick up Katherines—that Green worked to ensure the book's math is correct. "I wanted people who have the inclination to be able to look more deeply—and to show readers that math can become a language, and a graph can tell a story."
John Green rearranged the letters in Linda M. Castellitto's name, and came up with the anagrams "A slim, not little, cad" and "Maniac dolt tells it," among others. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Spring
Former child prodigy Colin (a hilarious blend of self-doubt and oblivious narcissism) only dates girls named Katherine. Recovering from yet another breakup, he's dragged out of bed (and to Tennessee) by his best friend, Hassan. The friendship between them forms the heart of this laugh-out-loud novel--a singular coming-of-age American road trip that both satirizes and pays homage to its many classic predecessors. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #5
Former child prodigy Colin, faced with the real-world uselessness of his genius for trivia and word games, has no idea what to do with his life. Floundering, he lets his best friend Hassan drag him on a road trip while he attempts to recover from his breakup with Katherine XIX (he only dates girls named Katherine). Visiting the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Tennessee, they befriend the tour guide, Lindsey Lee Wells, and accept summer jobs from her mother. As the three teens grow closer, Colin deals with his Katherine baggage by attempting to crack the code of love with his "Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability" (his last chance, he thinks, to "do something that matters"). Flashbacks to the various Katherine romances flesh out Colin's character (a pitch-perfect blend of self-doubt and oblivious narcissism) and provide hilarious insight into the peculiarities and universalities of insecure love. Hassan, often the butt of his own Muslim jokes, subverts the "jolly fat guy" stereotype with a quick wit and mounting frustration with being the sidekick. The final confrontation between Colin and him is the heart of the story, far more affecting than Colin's romantic tribulations. Laugh-out-loud funny, this second novel by the author of Printz winner Looking for Alaska (rev. 3/05) charts a singular coming-of-age American road trip that is at once a satire of and tribute to its many celebrated predecessors. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 August #2
Colin Singleton, child prodigy, tries to turn his 19 failed encounters with girls named Katherine into a formula that will predict the outcome of all relationships and elevate him to genius status. He and best friend Hassan take a somewhat non-traditional post-graduation road trip and end up in Gutshot, Tenn., guests of the owner of a factory that makes strings for tampons. Colin's wit, anagrams and philosophical quest for order combine with Lebanese Hassan's Muslim heritage and stand-up comedy routines to challenge the macho posturing of local youth, who are friends of Lindsey, the daughter of their hostess. When the boys are hired to collect oral histories of the town, their attachment to the small-town folk is cemented by cruising main street and hunting wild boar. Relationships develop, as does Colin, whom Lindsey somehow manages to teach how to tell a story, a skill truly lacking earlier. Sustaining the mood of giddy fun and celebratory discovery, Green omits the dark moments and bleak tragedy of his Printz Award-winning debut, Looking for Alaska (2005). There are tender tearful moments of romance and sadness balanced by an ironic tone and esoteric footnotes along with complex math. Fully fun, challengingly complex and entirely entertaining. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 September #1
Green follows his debut novel, Looking for Alaska , with this comic story about Colin Singleton, who at 17, considers himself a failure. "Formerly a prodigy. Formerly full of potential. Currently full of shit," he thinks, when, on graduation day, his girlfriend breaks up with him, the 19th girl named Katherine he has dated and been dumped by. (That number includes some third- and fourth-grade encounters, one of which lasted three minutes.) Colin's best friend, Hassan, an overweight underachiever, suggests a road trip to lift Colin out of his funk. A highway sign advertising the grave of the Austro-Hungarian archduke whose assassination sparked WWI leads them to Gutshot, Tenn., and Lindsey Lee Wells, whose mother, Hollis, is the town's largest employer she owns a factory that makes tampon strings. Hollis offers the boys jobs recording oral histories of local residents, which they accept, though Colin's true preoccupation is a mathematical formula ("The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability"), which will forecast the duration of all romantic relationships and enable him to make his mark on the world. It's not much of a plot, but Green's three companionable main characters make the most of it. Colin's epiphany he can't predict the future but he can reinvent himself, maybe even date a girl not named Katherine is pretty basic, but the intelligent humor that will make many readers eager to go along with him and Hassan for the ride. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)[Page 69]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 9 Up This novel is not as issue-oriented as GreenĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005), though it does challenge readers with its nod to postmodern structure. Right after intellectual child-prodigy Colin Singleton graduates from high school, his girlfriend (who, like the 18 young women and girls whom he claimed as girlfriends over the years, is named Katherine) breaks up with him and sends him into a total funk. His best friend, Hassan, determines that he can only be cured with a road trip. After some rather aimless driving, the two find themselves in Gutshot, TN, where locals persuade them to stay. There, Colin spends his spare time working on a mathematical theorem of love, hypothesizing that romantic relationships can be graphed and predicted. The narrative is self-consciously dorky, peppered with anagrams, trivia, and foreign-language bons mots and interrupted by footnotes that explain, translate, and expound upon the text in the form of asides. It is this type of mannered nerdiness that has the potential to both win over and alienate readers. As usual, GreenĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s primary and secondary characters are given descriptive attention and are fully and humorously realized. While enjoyable, witty, and even charming, a book with an appendix that describes how the mathematical functions in the novel can be created and graphed is not for everybody. The readers who do embrace this book, however, will do so wholeheartedly.Amy S. Pattee, Simmons College, Boston[Page 206]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.