An Abundance of Katherines
By John Green '00

In the author's note to this, his second novel for young adults, John Green writes that he chose to attend Kenyon in part because it had no math requirement. But the main character in An Abundance of Katherines is obsessed with math. Having been dumped by nineteen consecutive girls named Katherine, Colin Singleton finds solace in a road trip with his best friend, Hassan, and in his ongoing Theorum of Underlying Katherine Predictability, a formula for forecasting the future of any relationship--or so Colin hopes.

A former child prodigy who recently graduated from a Chicago high school, the nerdy Colin is afflicted with the feeling that he's missing out on a life that matters.

The road trip, in a gray Oldsmobile called Satan's Hearse, takes him and Hassan to a tiny town called Gutshot, Kentucky, where a tourist attraction ostensibly holds the body of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but where the real attraction turns out to be a girl named Lindsey. Offered summer jobs by Lindsey's mother, Colin and Hassan find that Gutshot is just the place to learn about love, fear, and friendship.

Green's debut novel, Looking For Alaska, won the 2006 American Library Association's Printz Award For Excellence in Young Adult Literature; An Abundance of Katherines was named an honor book for the same award. The author creates wry, lively, and original characters; Colin, for instance, is something of a contemporary Holden Caulfield. And like Salinger's famous book, An Abundance of Katherines offers a rewarding read for adults as well as teens--even those who don't like math.

--Traci Vogel

Death on the Learning Curve
By Pierce Scranton '68
Elite Books

Life as a medical resident at a teaching hospital is a seemingly endless cycle of sleep debt, split-second decisions, and gore. Somewhere in there, aspiring surgeon Ned Crosby finds time for love, humor, and insight.

Crosby is the protagonist of Pierce Scranton's fictionalized memoir of first-year residency. It's a gripping, fast-paced, often heart-warming, and above all realistic account, brimming with stories of burn victims, broken bones, and brain tumors. In one episode, a ninety-two-year-old man who was changing a light bulb falls off a ladder and breaks his neck. As the man sits in the examining room, carefully holding his head up, Crosby realizes that any movement could result in paralysis or death. Suddenly, the man falls backwards and turns blue; and, without guidance, Crosby must decide if it is safe to intubate the patient. His decision, and the outcome, affect not just the patient's life but Crosby's own.

Scranton's own medical career has been an impressive one. An orthopedic surgeon, he has served as president of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society and done volunteer medical work in Vietnam. For seventeen years he was also the team physician for the Seattle Seahawks football team, an experience that led to the nonfiction book Playing Hurt. This new book is just as fascinating as it moves from story to riveting story. But it's the character of Crosby, with his doubts, desires, and drive, that really stitches the stories together. Scranton has created a scalpel-sharp picture of residency that peers behind the surgical mask.


Eating the Shadow: a Memoir of Loss and Recovery
By C.L. Watson '74
Fenn Books and Media

When the phone rings late at night in the bed-and-breakfast that Celia ("C.L.") Watson Seupel and her husband own, and she hears her sister Caroline's voice on the answering machine, she knows it's bad news. Her family has had its share of hardships: a niece who developed schizophrenia, a sister with cancer. This time, it's C.L.'s brother Carter, who has long struggled with obesity. Carter now tops 400 pounds and can barely get out of bed. His wife has to help him bathe. He sleeps with an oxygen machine. His heart is overloaded. It's now or never, Caroline tells C.L.: you should visit him before he dies.

In trying to get Carter to confront his food addiction, C.L. finds herself facing a host of demons, including the effects of her father's alcoholism, her son's night terrors, and her own difficulty with weight. Episodes from the family's past are interspersed with scenes of Carter moving in and out of the hospital, and in and out of denial about his problems. "Addiction in the family is a cold shiver in the genes," she writes, "and the question sits in my consciousness like a cocked gun: Will I find a way to break the cycle?"

Written with sensitivity as well as self-deprecating humor, Eating The Shadow explores how addiction can affect a family for decades and how the ways we try to comfort ourselves can end up causing us terrible harm.


Summer People
By Brian Groh '95

Nathan Empson, a young man recently disappointed in love, takes a job as a companion to Ellen Broderick, an elderly woman summering in a sprawling house on the coast of Maine. Thinking the well-paid position will give him time to get out of his rundown Cleveland apartment and work on his graphic novel, Nathan instead finds that Ellen is so impaired mentally that he can leave her side only when she's asleep. Furthermore, the tight-knit beach community views him with suspicion. Gradually, Nathan unravels Ellen's troubled history, and stumbles into some serious trouble of his own when he falls for a neighboring family's nanny.

Nathan's outsider status makes him a convenient scapegoat for the status-conscious seaside gossip-hounds, but when the rumors lead to accusations of assault, neglect, and even arson, Nathan must draw on his own inner resources to defend himself. Groh's debut novel features a self-absorbed but ultimately likeable Updikean main character, a plot complex enough to draw readers in, and pitch-perfect naturalistic dialogue. Groh, who has written for The New Republic, National Geographic Traveler, and MTV, drew on his own experiences: he spent two summers caring for a widow in a coastal town himself. It took him four more years of writing while living on an inherited farm in Indiana to produce Summer People.


101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play
By Greg Melville '92 and Sarah Tuff
Countryman Press

After Greg Melville '92 and Sarah Tuff, former colleagues at a magazine in New York City, moved out of the city in search of open spaces, they decided to share their findings with anybody who might want to do the same. In 101 Best Outdoor Towns, they present their list of the best places in the United States for outdoor adventure.

The book covers a lot of ground, literally. Among the locales under review: Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, a New-England-style village with access to fly fishing, hiking, ghost towns, and even a canyon; Sheridan, Wyoming, a cowboy town near the Big Horn Mountains where backcountry hikers can begin their journeys and skiers can hit nearby slopes; and Port Townsend, Washington, a north Puget Sound town where, the authors write, a bicycle and a kayak are mandatory equipment. For visitors in need of either gear or a place to spend the night, the guide gives directions to nearby outfitters, lodges, and inns.

While Melville and Tuff have searched for places that are relatively free of crowds and close to outdoor playgrounds, they have two other criteria: the towns must have a diner for breakfast, and they need a watering hole for an evening drink--especially if that bar has a good microbrew or two on tap.

--Adam Gilson

Where Peace Lives
By Debbie Robins '78
Cambridge House Press

Why can't people just get along? Debbie Robins takes up this question with a slender children's fable whose simple lessons invite further pondering. A nameless narrator who is "worried about the world" dreams that the angel Peace is imprisoned, whereupon a wise brown bear appears with a flying canoe. What follows is a fanciful quest in which a series of other animal-teachers offer the keys to quelling strife.

There's Mister Buddha, for example, a Siamese cat who offers a potion called Acceptance that magically ends enmity. Simplistic? Perhaps, except that the magic involves finding "a place beyond right and wrong" and learning to "watch one's thoughts"--elusive notions that can lead into deeper, more subtle territory. One of the messages here is that, even (or especially) in a world of so much external conflict, the way toward peace lies within. Robins ends her book with brief sketches of Martin Luther King Jr., Buddha, Gandhi, Christ, Moses, and Muhammad, and one can imagine young readers initially intrigued by the flying canoe who go on to learn more about these spiritual leaders.

Proceeds from sales of the book support City Hearts, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that seeks to draw children away from gangs and drugs through art education.

--Dan Laskin

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