“An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines Book Cover An Abundance of Katherines
John Green
Juvenile Fiction
Dutton Childrens Books

2007 Michael L Printz Honor Book

Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart
When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

I use GoodReads to keep track of books. Sometimes, I check reviews of books I’m thinking of reading, some books go on the TBR list regardless of what others think. Others don’t make the cut. For some books, these Printz books in particular, I wait to look at reviews until I’m done reading, I want to avoid having preconceived notions of a book if I can.

I’m always interested in reading what people who didn’t like a book have to say, this helps me clarify what I think — maybe the thing that someone else hates is the thing that made a book work for me. Occasionally, other reviews make me change my mind. I’ve read reviews that point out something problematic about a book that I had enjoyed, and have ended up feeling differently, disliking the book after the fact.

All of which is to say: having read t”An Abundance of Katherines” before, and enjoying originally and on the reread, I read reviews by people who didn’t like the book with humor. I find myself wondering if we even read the same book! I saw words in these reviews like: “boring” or “predictable” or “characters were unlikeable” and my favorite “the math part was dumb.”

I thin k there’s a pretty fine line about predictability in books — in many genres, books follow a pretty specific formula. When you pick up certain books, you can expect certain things to happen by the end, and for many readers, it’s not the end of the story, it’s the journey to get there.

Do John Green books have a kind of template or a formula? I think so, yes, and that’s exactly why some people keep reading his books. But to me, that doesn’t make them boring or pointless, it’s what happens along the way that matters. It’s the conversations and insights about life, love, relationships, and why we’re even here that keep me reading.

As far as likeability of characters go — I didn’t have a problem with this book, personally, but that’s what makes the world go round. If everybody like the same people and things, I think it’d be pretty boring. I’m also quite sure I’ve said before that making a character “likeable” isn’t necessary for creating a character that people care about.

Readers expect their authors to keep up their end of a bargain or a contract. We come to certain genres and books knowing we’ll get a specific outcome. Sometimes, the author will appear to break that bargain, resulting in books getting tossed across the room, but then we go pick the book up, keep reading, and find out that the new thing the author gave us was even better than what we thought we wanted. Some authors do just plain destroy the bargain and for no good reason, and I don’t have a lot of patience for that.

To me, his promise is to make his readers feel  something, to experience and learn something new about ourselves. I think John Green keeps his end of the bargain, even if unexpectedly, and I know I’ll keep reading.

“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party” by M.T. Anderson

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party Book Cover The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation
M. T. Anderson
African Americans
Candlewick Press

2007 Michael L Printz Honor Book

A gothic tale becomes all too shockingly real in this mesmerizing magnum opus by the acclaimed author of FEED. It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy's regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians' fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson's extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

This book has shown up on lists of books I might like on Oyster and Goodreads for awhile. I wasn’t really sure it was up my alley, especially after I had bounced off of a different book by Anderson.

Once again, though, this project of reading Printz books has not led me astray (honestly, of the 41 books I’ve read so far, I’ve really only hated one, and the other 4 that I’ve rated low or not rated at all were more victims of…not being my thing or disappointment rather than hatred).

This is a very unusual book, and it won’t be for very everyone. It’s set in Revolutionary America, and the language is pretty flowery. The story itself is strange and disturbing, and as a reader it was a bit….well, like watching a car crash. You don’t want to see, but you can’t help yourself, and wonder what it says about you that you are so compelled.

It has gotten easy, at a remove of many years, to romanticize the founders of our country, but this book is a reminder that those men weren’t saints. They wanted freedom, but for those who looked like them. Octavian is a slave from Africa, being examined for his intellectual capacity, and despite what he could achieve (which was pretty impressive!), the deck was stacked against him. No one really thought he was actually a human, and the so-called experiments “proved” this.

The first part of the book is a little slow, as it follows Octavian when he is young. The pace picks up towards the end, and ends in a cliffhanger. Luckily for me, the second book in the series is a 2009 Printz Honor Book. I would read it anyway, but this way, it’s sooner rather than later.

“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese Book Cover American Born Chinese
Gene Luen Yang
Juvenile Fiction

2007 Michael L Printz Award Winner

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he's the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl...

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn't want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god...

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he's ruining his cousin Danny's life. Danny's a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse...

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax--and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.

Hey! A graphic novel — the first to show up as a Printz honoree — and it won the 2007 award. This is a very quirky quick read of a book. It might seem to be simple, but it’s actually a pretty complex tale that I thoroughly enjoyed.

As soon as I finished it, I handed it to one of my teenaged boys. He flew through it, and when he was done, I asked what he thought. He let a grin slip, shrugged, and said  “It was kind of weird.” I could be mistaken, but I think that counts as a thumbs-up kind of a review.


2006 Printz Wrap Up Post

I think I might have forgotten to do a 2005 summary — and after posting last week, I realized that I had gotten some posts out of order (starting 2007 before finishing 2006!)


So, 2006 Michael L Printz honor and award winners. A very eclectic group of books — two novels, a short story collection, a biography, and poetry. I had already read Looking for Alaska, and while I loved it (again), I think that I Am the Messenger had a bigger impact on me out of all of the books. The style and message of the book were fantastic. There’s nothing like the feeling of getting run over by a book. That sounds weird, I know, but as awful as it sounds, there are an awful lot of us that keep looking for that feeling.

For some books, I still wonder at what made them honor-worthy. Why was the Lennon biography considered so special? I mean, yes, I enjoyed it, but what made the awards committee choose it over every other book that got published that year?

I think if nothing else, this experience has lead me to read so many books that I never would have considered picking up on my own, and I’m grateful for that. A Wreath for Emmett Till is an extremely powerful and thought-provoking read. It’s just a tiny little picture-book length poem, that packs a really big punch.


“A Wreath for Emmett Till” by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy

A Wreath for Emmett Till Book Cover A Wreath for Emmett Till
Marilyn Nelson, Philippe Lardy (illustrations)
Juvenile Fiction

2006 Michael L Printz Honor Book

Presents fifteen interlinked sonnets to pay tribute to Emmitt Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman, and whose murderers were acquitted.

This slim book of poetry was a surprise. At first, because it looks like a child’s picture book. Later, because of the poetry itself.

The name Emmett Till was vaguely familiar, but sadly, not enough to have been able to say who he was. The book description, above, has a short version of his story, for more, I offer you Wikipedia. As I write this, we are 5 days past the murders of 9 African Americans in a church, in a state that still flies the Confederate Battle Flag over its capitol building. Till’s death was a pretty key moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Without going too much further into this rabbit hole, it’s pretty clear that Emmett’s story is still relevant today.

Setting aside the content of the poetry for a moment, the sheer technical artistry of this book made me gasp out loud at one point. It is structured as a heroic crown of sonnets: fifteen interlinked sonnets (a sonnet is a 14 line rhyming poem in iambic pentameter). A crown of sonnets are connected by their first and last lines: the last line of a poem becomes the first line of the next poem, sometimes with slight alteration. A heroic crown takes this one step further: the 15th poem is made up of the first lines of all of the poems. And! The first letters of those first lines in that final poem, spell out RIP EMMETT TILL.

I think that what amazes me about good poetry is the adherence to such specific rules,  in a way that the rules become invisible, the words don’t feel shoehorned into the pattern, they were meant to be there, in that particular structure.

I read this book several weeks ago. I was looking through it just now to refresh my memory about the content. I’m going to include one of the poems without further comment, because I find myself unable to add anything else.

Mutilated boy martyr, if I could,

I’d put you in a parallel universe,
give you a better fate. There is none worse.
I’d let you live through a happy boyhood,
let your gifts bloom into a livelihood
on a planet that didn’t bear Cain’s curse.
I’d put you in a nice, safe universe,
not like this one. A universe where you’d
surpass your mother’s dreams. But parallel
realities may have terrorists, too.
Evil multiples to infinitude,
like mirrors facing each other in hell.
You were a wormhole history passed through,
transformed by the memory of your victimhood.


Marilyn Nelson


Source: Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. Houghton Mifflin, 2005