Titles: An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns
Author: Jonathan Green
Genre: YA, Coming-of-Age
An Abundance of Katherines
Colin has a habit of dating Katherines. They have a habit of dumping him. But Katherine #19 has done a real number on him. On top of that, Colin is a child prodigy who is quickly not turning into a genius adult. To distract him from his woes, his friend Hassan suggests a road trip. They wind up in Gutshot, Tennessee where Colin runs into a girl named Lindsey Lee, gets a head wound, and has a revelation--an idea that will certify him as a genius and possibly win back Katherine’s love. He will create a mathematical theorem for figuring out exactly how long a relationship will last.
Looking for Alaska
Miles Halter’s life in Florida is boring, so he convinces his parents to send him to a prestigious boarding school in Alabama. There he meets his roommate Chip “the Colonel,” who gives him the nickname of Pudge. More importantly, Miles sees Alaska Young, a gorgeous girl with a room full of books and a lust for life. He falls for her instantly. Between the Colonel, Alaska, and the other friends he makes, Miles has the chance to live the life he’s always dreamed: studying, pulling pranks, drinking, and smoking. But something is about to happen, which will change Miles’s life forever.
Quentin (Q) Jacobsen has admired his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman, since they were kids. But she’s a beautiful, popular, daring girl that is totally out of his league--until one day when she spirits him away in an epic adventure of revenge, breaking and entering, and pranks. The next day, Margo disappears. But she leaves behind a series of clues. Quentin is convinced he can solve the puzzle and find her--but to do so, he’s going to have to go beyond admiring Margo and understand her as a person.
John Green is famous for his book The Fault in Our Stars, a tragic teen romance, which I read and quite enjoyed. It made me cry like a baby, but it also left me with a feeling of hope. Late last year in line for the register at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a tiny book version of An Abundance of Katherines and read the first few pages while I waited. The characters pulled me in and hooked me. I later bought the book at 2nd & Charles, a used bookstore, and I enjoyed it enough to pick up John Green’s other two books, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns.
The reason I’m reviewing these books together is because I feel like they are really similar. The main character is a lanky, academically-inclined, dorky guy hailing with supportive but somewhat distant parents and a solid best friend with a ton of personality. He falls for an outgoing, smart, beautiful girl who promises to shake up his fairly boring life with her forceful personality and impulsive love of adventure.
The books are character-driven and plot-light, built upon a theme, that ends in a revelation. In between are high school hijinks which may include pranks, road trips, some light drinking, and literary references. Although there are hints of romance, none of them are what I would call romance novels, although An Abundance of Katherines is probably closest. These are contemporary, coming-of-age novels, first and foremost.
By the way, I’m not pointing out the books similarities as a diss. I happen to like this style, which is why I kept reading the books. What I feel differentiates them the most are the themes each book explores. In the case of Katherines, it’s dealing with a break-up and yearning to be special. In Alaska, it’s a spiritual quest to understand life and death. In Paper Town, it’s about how well we are able to know ourselves and other people.
I probably found Paper Towns the most enjoyable. I liked the themes best, but I also found the plot tightest, due to the fact that it contains a mystery. Katherines was my least favorite, because the abundant use of flashbacks slowed it down. Also, it promised a road trip and never really delivered. (If you want a road trip, there’s one in Paper Towns.) Alaska was somewhere in the middle for me. It was the saddest, had the least romance, and felt like the most traditional of the coming-of-age novels.
John Green has a distinctive style, and if you enjoy that style, you’ll probably enjoy any one of these books. They are solid reads, with clear beautiful prose, engaging characters, and powerful themes. The endings range from happy (Katherines) to sad (Alaska) to bittersweet (Paper Towns), but they all left me with a sense of hope. I appreciated the heart and passion John Green put into his writing. Each book explored a facet of life, and I felt wiser for the journey.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.