Study Guide

An Abundance of Katherines Themes

  • Individuality

    Are you unique? What makes you—you? That's one of the big questions An Abundance of Katherines asks us to think about. We've got a washed-up child prodigy who wants to matter, but he's just not sure if he's unique any more. Then we've got Lindsey who's faked it so much that she's one big phony most of the time—she wants to fit in, so she pretends to be nerdy/ditzy/southern just to do so. It's easy to lose sight of who we really are deep down in our cores, and this book is all about questing to get in touch with our true selves.

    Questions About Individuality

    1. Is Colin unique? Is he special in the way that he wants to be, or in a different way?
    2. Why does Lindsey pretend to be a bunch of different personalities? Do we ever find out which one is the real deal?
    3. How do characters express their individuality in the novel? Lindsey is sure that TOC and Katrina are exactly as they seem. Why? Do you buy it?

    Chew on This

    No one in An Abundance of Katherines is really an individual. Lindsey, Katherine, and even Colin are really just stereotypes.

    Colin is unique because all he knows is how to be is himself.

  • Love

    You can't talk about An Abundance of Katherines without talking about the big L: love. Colin wants it, but can't seem to believe it when he has it, and falls in love with a Katherine practically at the sound of her name. Of course, this is exactly what the teenage years are for—they're about discovering what and who you love, and what you want in a relationship. But falling head-over-heels as a teenager often leads to break-ups, and boy does Colin have his share of those.

    Questions About Love

    1. Does it matter that Colin dumped one of the Katherines? Why or why not?
    2. What is Colin searching for in creating his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability? Can a formula tell us anything about a relationship?
    3. Was Colin really in love with any of the Katherines? What makes you think so?

    Chew on This

    Though Colin thinks he has a handle on love at the beginning of the book, he wasn't really in love with any of the Katherines.

    Just because Colin's relationships were short-lived doesn't mean they weren't meaningful to him.

  • Memory and the Past

    Here's a tip from the olds at Shmoop: If the best years of your life took place in high school, you're in for a long downhill slide. There's nothing wrong with remembering the good times, but living in the past just leads you to tragedy (or at least to being a major bore). In An Abundance of Katherines, Colin revels in the past because it's where Katherine is, but he soon learns that memories can be fickle things. They change over time, and pretty soon, the memory of Katherine is all he has left. But those can't keep him warm at night, and it would serve him well to remember that.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Does Colin remember the past realistically? What parts of his memories seem unlikely?
    2. Colin calls his memory the "one facility he'd always trusted." Why does he cherish his memory so much?
    3. Is Colin driven by his memory of the past, or his dream for the future?

    Chew on This

    Colin is alone and a major snore because he only wants to live in the past.

    Even though Colin's memory lets him down, it still comforts him enough to keep around.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Not to go all parental on you, but it's time to ask some heavy-hitting questions: what do you want to do with your life? What's the purpose of life? If you're in high school, chances are your parents are always bugging you about which college you want to go to, or what major you want to take. It's the norm for us to think about these things when we get to those teenage years, and Colin and Hassan are plagued by these questions too in An Abundance of Katherines. And in true young adult novel form, they come up with different answers to these questions. Colin wants to study, study, study, while Hassan is happy watching TV and doing nothing. The thing is though, both of them start to reconsider their life's goals and path over the course of the novel (if you haven't checked out the "Genre" section, now might be a good time to do so).

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. Why are Colin and Hassan constantly at odds about how to live? Whose life philosophy do you agree with more? Why?
    2. How does Colin's childhood as a prodigy influence his ideas about what it means to exist? Why is mattering so important?
    3. Colin's dad wants Colin to learn more to reach his potential, and his mom wants him to be normal. Which path does Colin chose? Does this change over the course of the novel?

    Chew on This

    Colin's dad puts too much pressure on his son to live a certain way, which drives Colin over the edge.

    All Colin cares about is becoming a genius. It doesn't matter if he does anything else in life.

  • Coming of Age

    It wouldn't be coming-of-age lit if it didn't have at least some stuff about, well, coming of age, right (check out the "Genre" section for more on this)? Most of An Abundance of Katherines charts Colin's journey from child prodigy to awkward adolescent, and into adulthood. He's just graduated high school and has to figure out what he's going to do with his life. Here's the thing, though—Colin hasn't had your run-of-the-mill childhood, and in many ways he was practically an adult when he was a child. All that studying and reading meant that he never really had time to just be a kid, so he's not even sure how to act as an adult.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. Is Colin's development stunted by the fact that he didn't have a normal childhood?
    2. How do Hassan and Lindsey help teach Colin about growing up? How do they make him act more like a teen?
    3. By the end of the book, is Colin an adult? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Even though Colin has missed out on some developmental landmarks while growing up, he has still been able to grow by thinking through very adult intellectual problems.

    Colin's whiz kid status stunted him from ever maturing into a well-adjusted adult.

  • Happiness

    Anyone ever said to you don't worry, be happy? It's easier said than done sometimes, right? This is especially when it comes our main guy Colin in An Abundance of Katherines—he can't be happy because the love of his life dumps him again and again. He's down in the dumps when we meet him, and he pretty much stays that way for the first half of the book. We can't help but wonder whether Colin likes being this mopey—after all, for most of the book he's pretty dedicated to leading a Katherine-centric life, no matter how down it makes him feel or how devoid of Katherines his life may be at the time.

    Questions About Happiness

    1. What makes Colin unhappy? Is he really depressed because of the Katherines, or is something else getting him all depressed?
    2. How do characters define happiness in the novel? Are Hassan and Lindsey happy? Why or why not?
    3. Can Colin ever be happy? Even after he's solved the Katherines theorem and moved on from K-19, do we see him happy?

    Chew on This

    Colin likes being down in the dumps because he doesn't know how to be happy.

    In the end, Colin is happy because he's moved on from K-19 and is dating Lindsey.

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    If you asked Colin, he'd probably agree that everything he needed to know he learned in kindergarten. That's because by the time he was in kindergarten, he was already reading and studying with a college professor. To Colin, education is the foundation of his life. Learning—in any form—is super important to him, and in An Abundance of Katherines we see him constantly pushing himself to learn more facts, languages, equations… well, you get the idea. But Colin doesn't just want to learn to fit in with society; he wants to become a genius. (Don't we all?)

    Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

    1. What's the deal with Hassan putting off college? What is it about college that repels him? Why does Colin want his buddy to enroll so badly?
    2. Why is it so important to Colin to become a genius? Why can't be just be normal or intelligent?
    3. Does An Abundance of Katherines make the argument that knowledge is best obtained through experience or formal education? What is the difference between the knowledge Colin has and the wisdom other characters have?
    4. Is Colin a genius? Why does he distinguish between prodigy and genius so much?

    Chew on This

    Colin isn't a genius and never will be. He simply spends more time working at being smart, so he appears more knowledgeable.

    An Abundance of Katherines tells us that all knowledge is valuable in some way, whether it's delivered in factoids from Colin, or a formal university education from Hassan.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Do you dream of a world full of pillows in which you can lie around eating Doritos and listening to drone music all day? Keep dreaming. (Eventually, you're going to have to get up and pee.) In An Abundance of Katherines, Colin dreams of making a massive discovery that will certify him as a genius, not just a washed-up child prodigy. But is his dream as unrealistic as our Doritos fantasy, or does it have a chance of coming true? Well, it depends who you ask—Colin's dad seems to think his son could be heading to the land of Albert Einstein, but Colin's not so sure.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Do Colin and his dad want the same thing for his future? How do their plans and hopes differ?
    2. Why is it so important that Colin becomes a genius? Why can't he just be a regular old prodigy, or even a normal kid?
    3. Do other characters have dreams? How do Hassan's and Lindsey's life plans differ from Colin's?

    Chew on This

    Even though Colin desperately wants to become a genius, it's never going to happen for him.

    Colin's dad wants him to live out a certain life so that he doesn't waste his future, but Colin can't live up to his dad's standards.