December 05, 2006

No Cats or Katies, Just Katherines, Please

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

It's not every day that you run into a couple of characters like Colin and Hassan. They're a buddy movie waiting to happen. Hassan is a Lebanese American Sunni Muslim -- and not a terrorist, thank-you. He was homeschooled for most of his life, and he's a genius on the sly, having figured out that it doesn't always pay to advertise how smart you are. He's acidically sarcastic, hilarious, doesn't take himself or anything -- including his man-boobs, his intellect or his education -- seriously.

On the other hand, Colin is a guy who could read at the age of two, and went on from there like a shooting star, memorizing arcane facts (such as where one gets an eyelash is best described as one's pupillary sphincter), compulsively making up anagrams, and winning money on game shows from his sharp intellect. He is sometimes horribly humorless, and is basically a high strung, perfectionistic, nerdy, brainac, so desperate to hang on to anything good in his life that he's already looking ahead to how he will lose it all. Intellectually Colin is the blazing genius of the pair, but he considers himself as an academic has-been. He hates being called a prodigy.

Mostly, Colin has issues because he's a Dumpee. See, he's been dumped. Repeatedly. But nineteen girls named... Katherine. What are the chances of nineteen Dumpers named Katherine-with-a-K, you ask yourself? It's the type of question Colin would LOVE to answer. And he tries to -- with formulae.

Yep, this guy is a genius, hardcore. Except at little things like life... and people... and love.

When the last of the Katherines dumps Colin on the last day of high school, he is so shattered that he thinks he cannot recover. His overprotective parents agree to allow him to go on a road trip with his best -- and in their opinion more normal -- friend, Hassan, who has put off attending college for a year and is just bumming around, cracking jokes. Colin wants more than anything in the world to matter, while Hassan just tells him he wants to be famous. Running under the radar works best for Hassan, but Colin's too scared to do that. He wants to make sure that people see him, and know he's there. Otherwise, he's afraid he'll just be left behind.

On a quest to find the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the boys meet up with Lindsey Lee, her mother Hollis, and her unique group of friends with tight pants and chewing tobacco in the deep back country town of Gutshot, Tennessee. And in taking down oral histories, going on a hog hunt, and finding where there are hidden tampon strings, Hassan and Colin discover some deep things about themselves, and about life.

No, really.

A strange journey that includes sardonic and snort-aloud funny banter between Hassan and Colin, neat - but weird - historical facts, word puzzles, complex mathematical asides (which, the footnotes tell you, are entirely optional, but quite cool), and some realities about dating, An Abundance of Katherines is an indescribable book that I think I need to read again and again to totally appreciate its scope. Highly recommended.


Anonymous said...

That was such a good review, you made me want to go home and read the book all over again!

Anonymous said...

I'm so excited that I get to keep this one!!