Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

My third stop on the 2007 Printz Award Honor Books list is An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. Don't be fooled by the cover, nor my booktalk below. This is a serious book written for advanced readers and other exceptional youth. It explores the challenges of falling in love and maintaining relationships, but also larger questions having to do with constructing an identity and the purposes of life.

Like Looking for Alaska, Green's previous award-winning book, An Abundance of Katherines pushes the limits of "acceptability" in young adult literature. In this novel, math formulas, footnotes, and words like "fug" are sprinkled throughout; nothing terribily offensive is ever done or said, but the dialogue is realistic and the issues raised are ones that people, and young adults in particular, think about all the time, but rarely get the chance to talk about seriously in school or most other settings.

English teachers might enjoy reading An Abundance of Katherines, but I suspect most will choose not to teach it in their regular curriculums because it is just too "edgy" and unconventional. Because of this, and because the novel revolves around a road trip that takes place immediately after graduation from high school, I recommend teaching the book in an elective English course with high school seniors. High school seniors would likely love the book, and enjoy discussing all of the various issues that it raises.

Even though the book might be a challenge to teach (woops--I forgot to mention that math teachers working with exceptionally talented math students also might find this book a useful one to incorporate into their curriculums), I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to adolescents in grades 8-12 for independent reading. Younger, advanced readers might also enjoy the book, though they might have more questions, or parents might feel a need for conversation about some of the content.

Last but not least, adults who were big fans of Judy Blume's Forever, one of the biggest young adult novels from the 1970's, might also pick up An Abundance of Katherines. This book twists Blume's plot inside out by having the break-up between a Katherine and her "lover" occur at the beginning of the novel, instead of at the end (as well as 18 other times in the novel!). Its a great twist on that previous account of teenage love, and provides today's teens with a much more hip and relevant depiction of the vagaries of adolescent romance.

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