Backlist Bonus: An Abundance of Katherines

15707124by John Green
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars

After I read Looking for Alaska I was eager to dive into Green’s next novel. It sounded different enough that I was excited to see what he moved on to. Although parts of this story did make me laugh or held my interest, overall it was much harder to get through than any of his other books. The pace was plodding, and Colin didn’t interest me as a protagonist. Now that I’ve read four of his books, I can truly say this is my least favorite—though the quality of the writing puts it in my “okay” column.

Colin has been dumped by nineteen Katherines to date, and he’s ready to figure out why it keeps happening. He is working on a formula to predict a relationship’s end (who does the dumping and who is the dumpee, or if the relationship will work long-term) and is convinced he’s on the cusp of perfecting it. We follow his analysis of his previous failed relationships as he goes on a road trip with some friends and keeps a sharp eye for the next Katherine. Instead, he meets a Lindsey, who threatens to wreck all his notions about relationships.

This story features a rather predictable plot, lots of (interesting) math, and repetitive conversations. If you enjoy Colin’s perspective you’ll like this book, but if you find him wearisome I can assure you Green’s other protagonists are more lively and interesting. I was interested to see how Colin’s formula would develop (especially since Green enlisted an actual mathematician’s help) and this has a lot of quirks you’d find in humorous anecdotes from someone’s past. It feels a bit like a rambling story your grandfather might tell you years later. Worth reading if you want to read the complete set of Green’s work.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, An Abundance of Katherines is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews – Greg relates his senior year and the circumstances that led to breaking his cardinal rule of remaining aloof socially: befriending a classmate dying of cancer. See my review here.
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Lara Jean resolves to get over her past crushes by writing them love letters that she never sends. Except the letters DO find their recipients and she finds five boys wanting answers from her. A charming YA love story. See my review here.
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – A somewhat predictable but decent romantic comedy that takes place over a 24-hour period en route from New York City to London.

Backlist Bonus: The Fault in Our Stars

11870085by John Green
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

It was nearly impossible to avoid the hype of this book once it was slated for the big screen. “You will laugh! You will cry! SO MANY FEELINGS,” etc. Well, I didn’t cry when I read it (I guess I’m a robot?) but I did enjoy it. This book isn’t revolutionary—it follows the standard John Green Formula with standard characters falling in love for the first time, standard banter included. But Hazel Grace Lancaster (unlike Alaska Young and Margo Roth Spiegelman) feels a bit more solid and real. Maybe because she doesn’t have to be the epitome of femininity for Augustus Waters (Green really has a thing for full names) to love her.

Hazel has terminal cancer—she doesn’t have long flowing hair, crazy adventures to talk about, or a substance abuse problem. She is physically weak, her looks distorted from medications, and her closest friends are her parents. She is sharp and pragmatic about this, which I really loved about her. Her friendship with Gus grows from opposite opinions on nearly everything and his stubborn refusal to agree to her philosophy of having no relationships because her early death will end them.

There is plenty of dark humor as the characters (all of which come from a support group for teens with cancer) grapple with pain and issues that most people their age can’t begin to imagine. Questions that many people put off until their golden years to consider are shoved in their faces each time they look in the mirror. What is the purpose of life? What happens after you die? Combined with these are the questions no less pressing to teens: will I ever find anyone who understands me? Who are my real friends?

As with other Green novels, there is a slight feel of the pretentious but he has a knack for creating characters that can push that aside so you can enjoy the story. After his first novel, this one is my favorite. There are some truly beautiful lines that will stick with you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Fault in Our Stars is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – The counterpart to Green’s emotional writing, this is the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love despite knowing that first loves don’t last. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Charlie’s freshman year chronicles his ups and downs as he tries to make friends and deal with traumatic events from his past. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – A moving story about two best friends competing to be the skinniest girl in their class. But when Cassie dies, Lia is feels haunted by her spirit and by the voice in her head whispering that if she can lose a few more pounds, everything will be all right again. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Looking for Alaska

16167989by John Green
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 3, 2005

This was my first exposure to John Green and remains my favorite. He’s become known for a few of his own clichés (the manic-pixie-dream-girl, the awkward guy with a weird hobby who falls for her, the side-kick friends…) but this is his first book and I think that’s what makes this story feel the freshest.

Understandably, Green is a popular and thus polarizing author, but for whatever it’s worth, I think if you like one of his books you’ll probably like all of them. And if you find one isn’t your cup of tea…well, then I wouldn’t read the rest of them!

Miles “Pudge” Halter has led a dull life to this point. We find him at Culver Creek Boarding School, hoping for some adventure. What he finds is Alaska Young—the most beautiful, interesting, sexy, screwed-up girl he’s ever met—and what happens after that is not something he could ever predict.

This is a quintessential coming-of-age novel with all the required elements: boarding school, teen angst, first love, drinking, sex, happiness and heartbreak and finding yourself. Miles and Alaska are endearing characters and I enjoyed following their crazy adventures as they build a friendship that could be something more. They blunder their way through all the questions we face in high school, the ones that aren’t in text books, that aren’t covered in class. It has that Mood that happens when you follow high school’s important and mundane moments, and it addresses the fact that sometimes you don’t get a formal resolution. It’s just the right length and the characters’ dialogue is what keeps it moving. Definitely put this on your list if you’re exploring older YA.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Looking for Alaska is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not happy with her father’s re-marriage or their move. When she hears her mother is sick, she decides to go on a solo road trip to visit her. See my review here.
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews – Greg lays out the hazards of befriending a girl in class solely because she has cancer. An interesting take on high school relationships. See my review here.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – The highs and lows of first love, especially when you know first love isn’t meant to last. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Probably the only YA novel more quintessentially coming of age than Green’s work. Charlie has never fit in but now he’s a freshman and determined to change that. See my review here.

Paper Towns

6442769by John Green
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars

I’ve read almost every other John Green book so I thought I’d round it out by catching this one. Obviously he has a specific style and formula for his stories, so I kind of knew what to expect, and although I enjoyed some of his other books more, this one still had plenty of hidden gems for me. There’s still some laugh-out-loud moments and thoughtful commentary (even if it feels a bit forceful).

Quentin and Margo could be Miles and Alaska but the bones of the plot are different enough that you can ignore those similarities. When Margo has Q assist with her wild night of pranks before skipping town, Q thinks he is meant to find her. While the quest to locate Margo drags on a bit longer than I’d like, I did enjoy the last third of the book a lot. We spend time on multiple characters’ opinions about why Margo ran away and what would or should happen upon finding her (or if they should even look for her to begin with) and the interplay is compelling. This is a solid entry on the high school coming-of-age shelf and having read four of his novels now, I can say if you like one of them you’d probably enjoy the rest.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Paper Towns is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green – I know, but seriously, I still view his first novel as my favorite of his, and I think it’s a bit of a touchstone for YA. Also, this has the same nostalgic feeling for summer camp and high school like a few other books I’d recommend. And if you’re in high school, trade “nostalgic feeling” for “rings true but clear it’s with a graduate’s perspective.” See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – This is one of those “high school nostalgia” stories I just mentioned. This covers a longer period of time but the feeling is there. See my review here.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Another quintessential high school story that lacks the mission of Paper Towns but fills it with all the feelings of first love instead. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not okay with her new step-family situation. When she finds out her mother is sick, she decides to take a solo road trip to see her. This has a lot of the same vibes as Paper Towns. See my review here.

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