Published: October 16, 2008
Genre: Young Adult
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – 5 Stars
When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type is 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.
I liked this book, I really did. For me it was something so very different and peculiar, yet very emotional without possibly intending to be. This is the story of Colin Singleton, a former child prodigy who is now desperate to stop the pain of being dumped by Katherine XIX and to find a way to matter.
To try and recover from being dumped, Colin and his friend Hassan go on a road trip, which ends shortly after in Gutshot Tennessee after a quest to see the Archduke Franz Ferdinand leads them to Lindsey, Hollis, and a town intriguing enough to stay in. The story is in their time there, something I won’t delve too much in, you have to go on it yourself, there is too much and too little to actually describe to make it not just a simple plot breakdown. I know this book is not a favourite by a few people, but I see that as the same reasons why I loved it. There is a lot of judgement at face value, and either a misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or simple inability to understand Colin as a character that people couldn’t connect with.
As a character there is an awkwardness about Colin; he is slightly too quick to judge, but not necessarily in a harsh way, almost logically based on what is presented to him. Though he is not against changing his opinions, he just needs cause to do so. We see through the story histories and flashbacks that this is who Colin has always been, and the struggle Colin has in being who he is can be insightful. He apologises when he is called out on displaying knowledge, that is a bit depressing, but there is enough in Colin’s straightforward character to know he is not too worried. This is the starting point of his character, a place we get to see change begin, in all the right areas but also not too much.
There is a deep thread of intellect in this entire story, and especially through its characters, but not in a way that feels forced. The knowledge and intellect that are displayed fit perfectly with each character and with who they are as people, and as young adults. Whether this seems pretentious to some, I took as being an excellent addition of a story and new approach to characters.
Also the use of footnotes was a new thing I had not seen in a fiction book before and I thought they were an excellent addition, they didn’t distract from the flow of the story or reading at all, often they were additional thoughts regarding Colin, or an explanation of terms and translations, or simply extra commentary. Their role was to add a little bit extra to the story and do what footnotes are designed to do, hold important information but do not need to be in the main body of work. There are also graphs, but these are woven into the story a bit more than the footnotes, they have narrative purpose, but are nonetheless just as intriguing.
John Green as an author likes to give his characters uniqueness about them, whether it is loving an abundance of Katherines and making anagrams, or, like in Looking For Alaska, it is knowing famous people’s last words. What he puts into his characters gives them uniqueness, a quirk that is not something that is obvious and makes them stand out, but it is just like reality, we all have a strange thing we enjoy, and that is just who we are and what we do.
I often find it interesting about people’s relationships in books. Colin’s friend Hassan continuously tells Colin that what he says and knows is not interesting and no one wants to hear it, but the thing is, I actually do. I am interested that Niko Telsa’s hair stood on end for a week after 50000 currents went through his body. That is interesting to know. I do not understand why people do not like to know things. How is knowing things about the past and the world around you uninteresting, even if they are trivial? Why is it such a bad thing to find things interesting? Niko Telsa, the pigeon lover, is interesting.
The sad thing I found is that Colin listens to his friend Hassan where he shouldn’t, and other times he ignores him when he shouldn’t. Just because Hassan thinks Colin shouldn’t be something, doesn’t mean he should try and change it, however there are some aspects of Colin that need improving so it can be complicated. Hassan himself has his own flaws, everyone has their own flaws, this is not an ideal world with magic and perfection, it is a representation of life. Colin is a failed prodigy, unable to figure out what he is doing, what life is about, and what he should be doing with his time. Hassan on the other side is obsessed with Judge Judy, is one of those friends who seemingly bullies his friend and makes it seem like a joke, and he is too is looking for something to do with his life, even if it is in a less scientific way than Colin.
I’d almost say it is not exactly a coming of age story, in the same way that it is. Colin is essentially lost, he does the metaphorical and physical (albeit relatively short) road trip to find answers, and in doing so he learns about himself. The people Colin and Hassan meet influence them, as does the events they get embroiled in, but all the while Colin continues to find his way to matter. The idea of trying to prevent others from being in the same dumped situation he begins working on trying to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship by using the information from his failed relationships.
But despite being set up this way, there is a lot more to this story. Green has not made it the lifetime adventure or two friends who are off to see the world. They always seem to be wandering and looking for something, even when they are not travelling; and when opportunities come you can clearly see the cracks, and the desires to change who they are. The people they meet influence them and offer outside perspectives on who they think they are and perceive themselves to be, while offering a chance to step outside their comfort zones, whether it is for the better or not is almost irrelevant. That is part of a coming of age story, right?
As for the Katherine’s, we are given a less than chronological history of Colin’s past relationships with Katherine 1 through 19 in this story, and all the while we see how they all played out and how it affected Colin and his desire for the Theorem. What Green has done rather well is he introduces us to information, and either in footnotes or through dialogue he essentially tells us that it will all be explained in the end. We are given references and clues, or mentions of the Katherine’s past, and we must read on to see the connections, where these references originate, and why they are important. This is the case not just for the Katherines, but for other information as well.
The characters certainly drive this story, you see how they grow and interact with their surroundings, and with not a lot going on in Gutshot, there is a lot of value placed in the people within the town. This helps because you really get to see the characters as they are, who they are around other people, and who they are desperately trying to be without the weight of an intense and dramatic scene overshadowing those involved. Surely that is the magical part in this story, no matter who you are, everyone tries to be somebody else at some stage before realising that being who they are is just fine.
I know some people say that this is the least impressive John Green book, but I don’t think this is so, the books are all so separate from one another, and trying to compare them is not going to work. These are not works in the same world with the same characters, they are their own stories, and I would certainly not expect to compare a story against another simply because the other was better. Why would Katherines be worse just because it is not like Alaska? This is flawed thinking. As its own book it is what it is, and I enjoyed it. Comparisons are inevitable of course, but see it for what it is, not because of what it isn’t.
I think you should read this book, and even if you don’t like it, dislike it for what is it, not for what it isn’t. Though if you get nothing else from this book, something it does do is make Pi look easy enough to remember if you’re committed enough; I have only been able to get to six decimals, that’s my achievement, it seems I should be able to do more.