BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns by John Green and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Alaska Katherine Paper Towns Will GraysonRunners/walkers/movers: in case you ever wondered – yes, a gluttonous John Green-binge stuck in the ears really makes the miles fly by (public displays of sudden, extreme emotion notwithstanding). I began backwards with the latest of the JG-oeuvre, the incomparable, luminous The Fault in Our Stars, which quickly led me to the rest of his earlier titles (one after the other, relished in the order below as they landed in my iPod).

As audible performances go, Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Green’s only co-authored title thus far) gets the outrageously entertaining medal. Of course, the narrating duo has a pretty fabulous script to work with, too. Nick Podehl takes Green’s odd chapters, giving voice to Will Grayson, an all-around nice guy with a larger-than-life best friend named Tiny Cooper who is writing an epic musical about his life, while MacLeod Andrews voices David Levithan‘s  even chapters, infusing will grayson’s angry, misunderstood teenager, whose closest relationship seems to exist only on his computer screen. [And yes, the chapter numerology is slightly ironic.] The two WGs meet inadvertently in a Chicago porn shop (not what you think) and suddenly their very different lives begin overlapping in surprising, change-making ways … queue the music (again, it’s not what you think; the answers are never that obvious!).

No porn shop stops happen in An Abundance of Katherines, but it aches with so much misunderstood love. Colin Singleton is single again, having been dumped by his 19th girlfriend named Katherine. Although he’s too old to be the child prodigy he was (he’s just graduated high school), and unfortunately realizing he’s not a genius (although he’s pretty spectacular with anagrams), he’s still determined to map out The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability – a surefire mathematical reduction that will determine the outcome of any love relationship. Out on an escapist road trip with his low-achieving best friend Hassan, Colin just might have a non-Katherine opportunity to prove his theory.

Elusive love drives Paper Towns when Quentin Jacobsen has the night of his life (again, not your first guess, for sure!) with the love of his life, his next-door neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman [Spiegel, by the way, is ‘mirror’ in German; remember that]. Growing up childhood playmates, Q and Margo discovered the body of a suicide victim almost a decade ago; both internalized that experience in very different ways. As teenagers, Q remained the well-adjusted, reliable, sorta nerdy boy next door; Margo grew up to be the impossibly cool girl everyone adored and envied. Now Margo’s gone missing … and maybe only Q knows Margo well enough to begin the search.

Between 136 days before and 136 days after, 16-year-old Miles Halter experiences possibly every emotion in Looking for Alaska, Green’s debut that catapulted him to award-winning bestselling status (where he deservedly remains). Miles’ loner life ends (dare I say ‘halts’?) as soon as he arrives at his Alabama boarding school, where he’s immediately renamed Pudge (because he is soooo not) by his new roommate who goes by Colonel, whose best friend on campus is the girl, Alaska Young (who got to pick her own name at age 7; she was just plain Mary Young until then). In 136 days, it happens, and Miles will spend another 136 days trying to figure out why, oh why.

Three elements seem to tie this quartet together: the nice boys everyone likes well enough, impossibly unattainable, vibrant young women (and the morons who keep cheating on them), and momentous life changes that require peripatetic adventures. That said, if that seems even remotely formulaic, don’t be fooled [think Haruki Murakami’s predictable unpredictability]. The permutations are unlimited (not to mention the erudite multi-layers that make you simultaneously grin and go ‘gawwww’). With Green helming the journey, we thankfully aren’t ever quite sure where we might end up. Here’s to the joy of pure discovery!

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010


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