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An Abundance of Katherines Looks for Love's Formula

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by Kathleen Bishop

It’s easy to get sucked into Jonathan Green’s novel An Abundance of Katherines for selfish reasons: Protagonist Colin Singleton develops a mathematical formula to predict the outcome of any relationship.

We'll be honest: LAist hoped it would work.

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Yeah, it’s a sad state of affairs when adults find themselves referencing young adult fiction for advice about their love lives, but Green’s story and characters are honest and clever enough that you probably won’t mind so much when the formula turns out to be a bust.

Eighteen-year-old Colin Singleton is a former child prodigy who has yet to develop into an adult genius. And he has just been dumped by a girl named Katherine. This was the 19th girl named Katherine he's dated and the 19th Katherine that's dumped him.

Without a Katherine or an intellectual “Eureka” moment to catapult him into full genius mode, Colin finds himself laying face down on his carpet, convinced that his life is failure. Enter best friend Hassan (stereotypical funnyman sidekick, but Green pulls it off), who persuades Colin to take a road trip to ease his pain. They end up in middle-of-nowhere Gutshot, Tenn., where adventure, romance, the mathematical formula and self-growth ensue.

The most refreshing part of Green’s sophomore effort – his debut novel was 2006 Michael L. Printz Prize Winner Looking for Alaska – is that it manages to tell a story about teenagers for teenage readers that doesn’t feel like “This Week...On a Very Special Blossom.

But the plot relies too heavily on gimmicks (Colin Singleton has NEVER dated anyone not named Katherine? C’mon) and glosses over some glaringly unrealistic moments (a wealthy woman invites Colin and Hassan to live with her and her daughter in Gutshot for the summer and pays them $500 a week. Yeah, right. That doesn’t happen unless there's some serious illegal activity going on). But Green’s characters are smart and funny with authentically teenage traits, and he takes their lives seriously without ever trivializing their emotions just because they’re kids.

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Colin’s ultimate realization is that it’s impossible to know the future of a relationship -- or life. Though he might not be the genius he expected himself to be, and he might not have the Katherine he always wanted, he finds comfort in the fact that the best things are often the most unpredictable. It’s a notion that could do some good for over-scheduled, hyper-anxious teens -- and adult soul searchers alike.