Get ready with your best comebacks, because An Abundance of Katherines is told with some major edge. It's not dark or anything—it's just got a know-it-all attitude when it comes down to it. It isn't surprising, either—Colin is a major smarty-pants, so it makes sense that the book about him is too. We're talking footnotes, graphs, and formulas to keep you on top of things in the book.
If all that school stuff has you headed for the hills, don't worry—there's also a touching and endearing side to the novel as well. After all, we all know what it's like to want to fit in, or find the person of our dreams, or even just want to matter. Colin's search for all three of these makes us want to root for him, even if he is a smart-aleck.
This one's kind of a no-brainer: Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey are all teenagers who are looking for their way in life. Colin may be dealing with all the ups and downs of being a child prodigy, but he's still dealing with all the normal teenage preoccupations like dating, getting dumped, and figuring out what he wants to do with his life. Teenagers dealing with teenage problems? Sounds like this book was written for teenagers, which means it's definitely young adult lit.
Even though Colin has just graduated high school and is a brainiac, he's more than a little stunted in his social and romantic growth. He only has one friend because he doesn't know how to interact with people. Plus, he's been dumped again and again by Katherines. But over the course of the book, he really starts to experience many of normal teenage things involved in the transition from childhood into adulthood—he becomes more independent, gets a job, makes a new friend, and figures out who he really is (underneath the whole child prodigy thing)… all of which means this is a coming-of-age tale.
There isn't a whole lot of adventure, but considering the key role Colin and Hassan's road trip plays in the rest of the book—particularly Colin's personal growth—and the occasional sneaking around and spying the group endeavors, it's fair to say this book has a crush on the adventure genre, if not a full-blown relationship.
This title is pretty straightforward considering there are a bunch (nineteen to be precise) of Katherines who date Colin throughout his life. John Green actually came up with the title before he wrote the book. Listen to him explain it:
"I created this fictional bibliography of books written by a fictitious author, and one of them was called, An Abundance of Katherines and was about an anagrammatic genius. It was just a total throwaway thing; the same fictitious author wrote many other books about many other obscure topics. But that one stuck with me." (Source.)
That's one way to come up with a book title.
We'd also like to point out that the title only mentions Katherine, even though she mainly appears through flashbacks. The thing is though, Colin doesn't even have an identity without Katherine for the first half of the book; all he is is the guy who was dumped by Katherines. We think it's cool that the title hints at that overshadowing too.
In the end, Colin pretty much rides off into the sunset with Lindsey and Hassan. But before you go all eye-rolling on us, check out the last line in the book: "And he was feeling not-unique in the very best possible way" (epil.32). That doesn't sound so sappy now, does it? Colin's feeling at the end of the book is one of happiness, but also of realism. He finally gets it—he doesn't have to be a whiz kid who has eureka moments and spits out not-so-interesting-factoids everywhere he goes, nor does he have to be social and make friends with people he doesn't want to.
For most of the book, he's gone around thinking he was just some guy who nobody liked, who always gets dumped by Katherines. But in the end, he's figured out that he can be whoever he wants to be. His world is full of possibilities—he just has to figure out what he wants to make of it.
Most of the book takes place in a small Hicksville town called Gutshot. Colin and Hassan are from the Windy City, and only really stop in Tennessee because they see a sign for the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. We learn a lot about our setting just by the way Colin and Hassan react to it. The narrator even tells us that they "fail to fully apprehend certain facets of rural life" like a rooster waking them up at 5:00AM (8.1). Can you blame them?
The setting is important because the whole town relies on the factory that Lindsey's great-grandpa opened. This is especially important to Hollis because she doesn't want to shut the doors of the place that keeps Gutshot going. Like in every small town, everyone knows everyone else's business, and over the course of the book Hassan and Colin get used to this and figure out how to deal with everyone in the town too. Plus, it's got a totally original and wonky name. Even though Gutshot isn't actually in Tennessee, it's slang for when someone gets, well, shot in the gut. And isn't that what being dumped feels like?
Let's face it: not all of us are child prodigies like Colin. Sure, we understand what's going on in his love life (probably better than he does) and we totally get his road trip with his buddy after a break up, but we're a little lost when it comes to his theorem about dating. He loses us around the time he starts saying things like f(x)=D3x2 – D. All those formulas and graphs can stay in math class, if you ask us.
Luckily though, he spends most of the time explaining the theorem or working on cracking the code, so we can pretty easily figure out what's going down. Plus, there's no denying that we don't need a formula to understand the rest of the book: Colin has major relationship drama and is really just trying to find out who he is. Been there, done that.
Did you notice how we only learn what happened between Colin and the Katherines in pieces throughout the book? That's because the novel is written with in a non-linear style, meaning it doesn't go chronologically. We get a series of flashbacks to another time while Colin is depressed in his room, or driving along the highway, and we're left to piece it all together for ourselves.
On the other hand, there's a sense of academic-ness to the novel. Not in a boring way, though—Green peppers the story with a bunch of footnotes, which compete for our attention. Take when Colin is thinking about winning Kranial Kidz, for example. A super long footnote tells us Colin made up:
a 99-word sentence in which the first letter of each word corresponded to the digit of pi (a=1, b=2, etc.; j=0). The sentence, if you're curious: Catfish always drink alcoholic ether if begged, for every catfish enjoys heightened intoxication; gross indulgence can be calamitous, however; duly, garfish babysit for dirty catfish children, helping catfish babies get instructional education just because garfish get delight assisting infants' growth and famously inspire confidence in immature catfish, giving experience (and joy even); however, blowfish jeer insightful garfish, disparaging inappropriately, doing damage, even insulting benevolent, charming, jovial garfish, hurting and frustrating deeply; joy fades but hurt feelings bring just grief; inevitable irritation hastens feeling blue; however, jovial children declare happiness, blowfishes' evil causes dejection, blues; accordingly, always glorify jolly, friendly garfish. (7.33)
Now we didn't really need to know that, but that sentence is there all the same, so what gives? Well, Green is giving us some backstory, sure, but he's also giving us more insight into the way Colin's mind works in these footnotes. They are like big, interesting tangents that give us a clearer picture of our main guy, in addition to being just the sort of factoids that Colin majorly geeks out over. Sometimes they're interesting, other times you don't really need to know them… just like in a conversation with Colin.
Colin and Hassan have each other's numbers, and they spare little when it comes to mocking, ridiculing, and teasing each other about their biggest insecurities. Sounds like a good time, right? It is—and it's pretty typical friend behavior—except when it gets a little out of hand, so they come up with a plan to navigate these moments:
"Maybe we should have a word," Colin said. "For when it's gone too far. Like, just a random word and then we'll know to back off." (8.12)
And with that, dingleberries was born.
First of all, what is a dingleberry? Well, it can mean "a foolish or inept person," which is certainly how Colin and Hassan act around each other a bunch of the time, but it can also mean poop. Yep, real nice word these boys are saying all over the place. We think the different meanings makes for some funny moments, because someone saying idiot or poop when the other pushes too far on personal stuff is just comical. The fact that it's really meant to be serious makes it all the more funny.
If you take a close look at the book, you'll see that the boys use the word again and again to get the other to back off. Saying this word is a code between the two of them, but it's also a great way for us to see when something crosses a line with one of them. They don't go saying uncle (or in this case, dingleberries) for no reason, now do they? And because of this, dingleberries serves as a symbol of what makes Colin and Hassan feel vulnerable or exposed… or like poop, metaphorically speaking.
It's hard to forget the mad-scientist math problem Colin comes up with, mostly because he can't shut up about it and insists upon working on it in every moment of his spare time. He wants the answers to questions every teenager who goes through a break-up asks:
The only thing is though, that Colin works out a mathematical formula to solve these, whereas most of us just eat a bunch of ice cream and binge-watch TV to solve our dating woes. The fact that Colin even has a formula speaks volumes—his whole life revolves around solving the unknowable. He reads and studies until he knows how many Tischlers are in Chicago, or who the junior senator from New Hampshire was in 1873. All that stuff doesn't really matter, but Colin learns it anyway.
So it's no surprise when he has the same approach to relationships—they are like a puzzle that he has to solve. You've probably figured out by now that real life doesn't work that way, and eventually Colin realizes it, too, but as he struggles away with his theorem, we are reminded about his social awkwardness, his desire to make a brilliant impact on the world, and what gets lost in the present when we're too focused on the past and future.
Everyone has a sanctuary away from the world, a place they go to when they've had a rough day or just want to be alone. For most of us it's our bedrooms, but for Lindsey it's a top-secret cave in the middle of the forest. The first time she tells Colin about it, she describes it as "my secret hideout. My super, incredibly top secret location that no one on earth knows about" (13.88).
Until now. She tells Colin about the hideaway and takes him there, even though her boyfriend TOC doesn't know about it. Her cave is her place to be by herself, which is especially important because she changes her personality depending on whomever she's with. The cave is the one place she can just be completely herself.
The cave doesn't just symbolize privacy and authenticity, though. Nope—Lindsey's cave is a big old symbol for s-e-x. Think about it: the cave is private, and no one is allowed to go there without Lindsey's say so; it's also where Lindsey bares all to Colin—at least metaphorically—telling him her secrets and things she's never told anyone else. Not convinced? Just picture a cave in all of it's dank, dark, hole awesomeness, and then remember that Lindsey invited Colin to come inside.
Hop on over to the "Characters" section to read about the Katherines. They're less like real characters and more like symbols disguised as characters and, considering the title of the book, you probably want to spend some time acquainting yourself with them.
You might be wondering how an Austrian from the 19th century wound up being so important to An Abundance of Katherines. For starters, Colin and Hassan visit his grave, which is really the grave of Fred N. Dinzanfar, Lindsey's great-grandpa. Now there's a cool anagram if we've ever seen one:
Fred N. Dinzanfar = Franz Ferdinand
But the Archduke is more important than just having an anagrammatic connection to Lindsey's family: he's famous for being shot, so he didn't really do anything to get famous. While Colin's off desperately trying to matter, Ferdinand matters to the world for doing nothing.
He's not really in the novel, but important to it because he's talked about so much. This historical guy becomes a symbol of what happens in life: while some people are remembered, others are forgotten, and a lot of times it doesn't matter whether we try to do something noteworthy or not. History gets to decide, ultimately, whether we're remembered.
This story might belong to Colin, but we've got a narrator around to be our personal tour guide through his mind. Good thing too, since Colin likes to zone out of a conversation and take a little trip down memory lane… okay, more like Katherine lane. Colin's always weaving in and out of the past, but we've got out trusty narrator to fill us in on the details about what's going on all around Colin. Colin's mind is free to wander since we've got our narrator here to move the plot along and keep up rooted in the present.
After Colin is dumped by a girl named Katherine for the nineteenth time, he mopes around at home in a constant cycle of weeping, wallowing, and whining. He doesn't get why he's always the one to get dumped, and he never even saw it coming. His buddy Hassan comes over to comfort him, but ends up giving it to him straight: Colin's got to stop bumming so hard over this girl, and get out into the world. Did someone call for a road trip?
Colin and Hassan drive until they get to a small town called Gutshot, where they stop to see the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Their tour guide, Lindsey, is dating a Colin, which they think is a really weird coincidence. Lindsey's mom, Hollis, offers the boys a job interviewing people around town, and they accept it because, well, they've got nothing better to do. The boys interview people about the factory that Lindsey's great-grandpa, Fred N. Dinzanfar, started way back when.
Colin desperately wants to matter, and he figures that if he can't shake his whole child prodigy label, he can at least make a huge discovery and be thought of as a genius. So he works on what he knows: math and relationships, trying to figure out a theorem that would explain relationships. Meanwhile, Hassan's new squeeze, Katrina, and Lindsey's BF Colin (TOC) were caught with their pants down (literally), so those relationships are history. Lindsey is upset, but she's more preoccupied with whatever's going on with her mom—Hollis has been cagey and anxious lately, and Lindsey wants to get to the bottom of what's causing that.
When you go hunting for the truth, be prepared for a bunch of secrets—that's what happens when Lindsey, Colin, and Hassan team up to spy on Hollis. It turns out no one is buying tampon strings from their factory anymore, so Hollis is dumping them in the ground so she doesn't have to fire anyone. Without the factory, loads of people would lose their jobs, and that's why she's been sending the boys around interviewing people about the factory in the good old days. She wants there to be a record when the factory is no longer around. Lindsey takes the news pretty hard, Colin goes to comfort her, and the two share their own secrets about their love lives. Oh—and Colin's figured out that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is actually an anagram of Fred N. Dinzanfar, Lindsey's great-grandpa. That's who's in the grave. All this secret sharing leads to a kiss, and then a relationship between Lindsey and Colin.
Colin finally figures out the theorem, but gets down in the dumps when it predicts Lindsey will break up with him in just four days. He's expecting it this time when he gets a letter from her, ending it their relationship… but wait—it's all just a joke. Lindsey's not going anywhere, and he figures out he can't use one theorem to predict when someone will break up with him. Lindsey, Colin, and Hassan decide to hit the road and see where it takes them.