In my AP Literature class (which doubles as a dual-enrollment Survey of British Literature course), the months of September and some of October were largely taken up with the reading of Jane Eyre. I purposefully slowed down how we worked through the novel, and I was pleased to have the majority of the class reading this 172-year-old book. We front-loaded early on by reading together in class until I felt students were bought into the story enough to want to know how things turned out for Jane by the end of this Bildungsroman.
Although I love Jane (and the British novel check that she provides to our curriculum), I acknowledge that this book can be a slog in places especially where Brontë settles into descriptions of the countryside or pages of terse dialogue between Rochester and Jane. For this reason, I offered my students a respite from their required reading and let them choose anything that they wanted to read for the month of November. Anything: verse novels, graphic novels, YA novels, nonfiction, anything was fair game. The only thing they have to do is publish a quick blog post about the book by the end of the month.
Since I picked what my class had to read for September and October, I let them choose what I read for the month of November. The only rules were that at least one person in the class had to have read the book and it had to be something I had not read before. I also have to publish a blog post by the end of the month reflecting on my reading, so here we are.
My class nominated several books and to my surprise An Abundance of Katherines by John Green was the winner. I had assumed they would try to pick the longest book any of them had read, and It was a close second. I have read two other books by John Green to mixed reviews, so I downloaded this one not sure what to expect.
I love John Green’s personality and his Crash Course YouTube channel series is an well-researched and witty tool for students who need a little help and humor. Several years ago, at the urging of students, I read his book Paper Towns which I really did not care for, but later on I read Turtles All the Way Down which I appreciated as a view into the life of a teenager with a truly debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder.
An Abundance of Katherines aligned more with Paper Towns and is just not for me (and by me I mean a 40-year-old mom). I do often love YA novels with teenagers as the protagonists, but I think sometimes after being around teenagers all day makes it is hard for me to read about teenage romance. However, I appreciate any author that makes kids wants to read and continues to write books that students will be excited about. I also like being made to read a work that I wouldn’t normally pick up, especially if the recommendation is from a student and it is important to remember that we don’t have to LOVE everything that we read.
This novel centers around Colin who is obsessed with dating girls with one name, you guessed it, Katherine. While Colin is a prodigy (his obsessive anagramming led to some of my favorite parts of the book), he has a completely one-track mind when it comes to figuring out a theorem based on all of his previous relationships with nineteen Katherines. Of course, Colin has some friends along the way who help him out and provide interesting references to Judge Judy and Hardee’s amid all of Colin’s self-realization. And then John Green will drop a sentence in like “Nothing was happening, really, but the moment was thick with mattering” which is so Fitzgerald-esque that one just has to pause and appreciate is.
I guess the general scenario of Colin taking off with $10,000 in his pocket and stopping in virtually the middle of nowhere, meeting a family, and then moving into their Pepto Bismol colored mansion made the whole scenario feel too far-fetched for me. If I am going to read about real people, I like for the plot to feel real also…even if it didn’t happen, I like for it to FEEL like it could have happened.
One element of the book that was particularly clever was the use of footnotes that would explain the references to random things that Colin knew about as a well-read genius in the making (he hopes). However, because I was reading on my Kindle, the footnotes were awkward and hard to click in and out of. This would have been a much better element in a physical book.
My recommendations for books with with teenage protagonist in contemporary settings would be The Poet X and The Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo; The Hate U Give and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas; Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I would also recommend John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. What I am realizing about my own reading is that I need to read more YA lit with male protagonists.
Do you have a book recommendation for me? I’d love to hear it. Check out my reading on Goodreads.