John Green: Transformation and Story-Telling

Transformation is so important in a novel. There must be, from the very beginning, the conflict and through the course of the novel a protagonist deals out a way he or she can change in an attempt to assuage this conflict. Frankly, that’s fiction writing. No conflict, no novel. No transformation, no protagonist. So, in An Abundance of Katherines our protagonist Colin has to go through a transformation. Luckily for us, the journey he makes specifically involves the power of storytelling. [FYI There are spoilers if you have not finished the novel. Too, there is no summary so if you aren’t familiar with the story, you may want to become familiar].

Before: So, we begin with conflict. The conflict from the very beginning of the novel is finding one’s place in it all—how perfectly young adult (YA) fiction of Green. Colin wants to matter. He wants to have that Eureka moment that takes him from prodigy to genius. He feels misunderstood (YA) and often just plain distant from a lot of the world (YA!!)—there’s a reason he dates the girls from smart camp—because of his prodigy lifestyle. No one really “gets it” (YA!!!!). So, we can guess his transformation is going to be feeling misunderstood to being understood. Who’s going to help him do that? Well, a love interest that creates a love-triangle of course (YA)!

Before Lindsey Lee Wells, Colin mentions the problem has always been transition. (This is something she hints at as well when she says he goes from thing to thing too quickly). He also, according to her, lacks the necessities for a good story: adventure, romance, and a moral. In this journey with her, Colin learns the importance of what Green later says in the afterword is the third most important advice he gives young writers: always tell stories and always listen when others are telling you theirs.

As we established, Colin wants to matter. That’s been the conflict since page one. In the end, he learns that telling stories is how we matter. The stories will make the infinite mattering possible even when the future erases everything. Each of us causes a little ripple with every story we tell because, even just slightly, people are always different after hearing our story than they were before. So there’s his transformation. We all matter, he says, maybe less than a lot but always more than none.

[I would also like to point out that even using something like anagramming — an act where you take a word and change it into something it wasn’t before — is a method of transformation. This is more a testament to John Green’s brilliance, but this talent is Colin’s greatest pastime because it speaks to the beauty of language and how language is so malleable. Green speaks to this in the afterword, saying “Words are not static. Language shapes our memories and it is also shaped by our memories.” This motif accomplishes just that in such a subtle way.]

– Preston