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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Colin Singleton used to be a child prodigy, the same way he used to be the boyfriend of a girl named Katherine. But on the same day that Colin graduates from high school, Katherine XIX — so called because she is the 19th Katherine who has dated Colin — dumps him.

All that remains of Colin's shattered identity is his love of anagramming. Fortunately, Colin is rescued from spending the summer wallowing in depression by his best and only friend, Hassan Harbish, who suggests that the two of them go on a road trip together. After obtaining the requisite parental approval, Colin and Hassan hit the highway.

Their road trip is brief — ending after only a night and half a day because Colin and Hassan make a detour into Gutshot, Tenn., (population 864) to see the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Lindsey, their tour guide, who is also an aspiring paramedic, proves helpful when Colin trips and hits his head on a rock on the way to the gravesite.

Hollis, Lindsey's mother and Gutshot factory owner, recognizes Colin from a game show he was on called "KranialKidz" and invites Colin and Hassan home for supper. When Hollis offers them a place to stay and a job interviewing Gutshot residents about their history, Colin and Hassan accept her offer.

They spend their days with Lindsey, recording interviews with area residents. In his free time, Colin anagrams and works on a theorem that predicts the rise and fall of relationships. He hopes that this will be the eureka moment that propels him from child prodigy to adult genius.

In the meantime, Hassan gets to know Lindsey's boyfriend (also named Colin and therefore christened by the first Colin as The Other Colin or TOC) and her other friends — particularly a beautiful girl named Katrina.

After a game of spin-the-bottle goes surprisingly well for Hassan, he and Katrina start a romantic relationship that includes lots of passionate kissing. Colin (not TOC) and Lindsey get to know each other better when Lindsey expresses interest in Colin's theorem. Lindsey shows Colin her secret hiding place — a small cave in the woods. She teaches Colin how to shoot a gun so he won't embarrass himself on an upcoming feral hog hunt. But then their peaceful summer falls apart.

Colin dissuades a charging hog by shooting and deliberately missing the pig but accidentally hitting a hornet's nest. He and Hassan flee through the woods until they are lost. While trying to find the road that leads back to Gutshot, they stumble upon the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's grave — and Katrina and TOC having sex in the graveyard.

Hassan amicably breaks up with Katrina, but TOC threatens to beat up Colin and Hassan if they tell Lindsey. Colin, however, records their conversation and plays it in front of TOC, Lindsey and all of their friends. Lindsey begins to walk away, but when TOC grabs her and won't let her go, a fight ensues. After being kneed in the groin by TOC, Colin ends up leaning on Franz Ferdinand's headstone. He realizes that Franz Ferdinand can be anagrammed to Fred N. Dinzanfar, the name of Lindsey's great-grandfather, who — like Colin — also enjoyed anagramming.

The next morning, Lindsey, Hassan and Colin continue interviewing Gutshot residents. Colin realizes that his theorem seems to actually work. Hassan registers for college — something his parents and Colin have been trying to convince him to do for more than a year. The threesome also spy on Hollis, who seems to have been hiding some secrets of her own. They learn that Hollis' factory — which supplies most of the good jobs in town — is not as profitable as it seems, and she is quietly overproducing and then discarding most of the product to keep people employed.

Lindsey, upset by Hollis' disclosure and TOC's cheating, retreats to her cave hideout. Colin follows her. Lindsey confirms that it is in fact her great-grandfather who is buried under Franz Ferdinand's headstone. Colin shares the story of the 19 Katherines with her, and then Colin and Lindsey kiss. They agree to start going out. However, Colin's theorem predicts that they will break up three days later. When they don't, Colin realizes that the future is unknowable. Even though he's no longer a prodigy and he may never be a genius, his future is still filled with possibilities. He, Hassan and Lindsey start off on another impromptu road trip.

Christian Beliefs

Colin has named his car Satan's Hearse. He and Hassan bypass a roadside attraction billed as the World's Largest Wooden Crucifix. Katherine XIX used to wear a crucifix before she became an atheist. Hassan, who used to be home-schooled, was beat up once by evangelical Christians at a home-school picnic.

Other Belief Systems

Hassan is a Sunni Muslim. He defines himself as only mildly religious but attributes his relative happiness to his faith. Religion is often a topic of conversation between him and Colin. He jokingly tries to convert Colin and save him from hell by sitting on him and asking him to repeat the words, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet."

Colin is multilingual, and he and Hassan often speak to one another in Arabic, which Hassan refers to as the sacred language of the Quran. He often refers to Colin as kafir (an Arabic insult that can be translated as infidel). Hassan loudly recites his prayers every morning. He usually refuses to do things that are haram (forbidden by Islam) but makes exceptions for things that he thinks God doesn't care about, such as owning a dog or drinking half a beer. He believes that God basically just cares about whether you are a good person. He also believes in saving sex for marriage.

Because eating pork is forbidden in both Islam and Judaism, Colin and Hassan agree not to kill any pigs when the teens hunt wild hogs. They stick to their promise, even when they are charged by a wild hog that Hassan likens to Satan's offspring. After seeing Hollis' sacrifice for the town, Hassan realizes that while he is fairly good at abstaining from doing bad things, he is not so good at doing good things for other people. He resolves to become more of a doer in the future.

Colin is a nonpracticing half-Jewish atheist. He compares faith in God to a belief in giant penguins that will take him into space where he can have sex with Katherine XIX. He also finds it difficult to understand why Hassan believes God gave him life but doesn't expect him to do anything with it.

Lindsey is a nominal Methodist. The Gutshot taco restaurant is known to locals as Taco Hell. Hassan believes that the bottle pointing at Katrina is a miracle. After Hassan and Katrina start going out, Colin teases Hassan by saying that God wouldn't lead Hassan to kiss a girl unless he was meant to marry her.

Authority Roles

Colin's parents are protective and involved. They actively encourage Colin to develop his intellectual gifts, but are sometimes disappointed when he doesn't reach the goals they set for him. After Katherine breaks up with Colin, they are concerned about his emotional well-being and worry that he will waste his potential. While in Gutshot, Colin calls his parents every night.

Hassan's parents are hardworking and wealthy. Hassan uses this as an excuse for never doing anything. He tells his mother he loves her, and he refuses to lie to her about the road trip (although he doesn't mind if Colin lies to her). However, he swears at his father behind his back for making fun of Judge Judy, whom Hassan idolizes.

Lindsey and Hollis have an unusual mother-daughter relationship. Lindsey usually calls Hollis by her first name. Hollis quietly disapproves of Lindsey's relationship with TOC and wishes that Lindsey would become a doctor. She and Lindsey both put money in a swear jar whenever they curse. When Lindsey, Colin and Hassan realize the sacrifices Hollis is making for the good of the factory's employees and pensioners, they gain a newfound respect for her. Hollis also apologizes to Lindsey for being so busy.

Colin's tutor, Krazy Keith, an older man, was Colin's only friend before he met Hassan. Keith is also Katherine XIX's father. Colin believes that mothers lie to make their children feel better.


Profanity is frequent and varied. It includes the words a--, a--hole, b--tard, b--ch, bulls---, craptastic, d--n, d--k, fag, h---, p---y and s--- (as well as various combinations of these words). Colin and Hassan regularly use the words fug, fugging and fugger as stand-ins for the actual f-word (which also appears occasionally). The name of God is misused multiple times (in both Arabic and English), sometimes paired with d--n. The name of Jesus Christ is also misused several times. Thunderstick and winky are used as euphemisms for penis. Colin was repeatedly bullied in school. He almost had his penis bitten off by a lion when he urinated into its cage at the zoo.

Crude behavior in the book includes Hassan urinating messily into an unflushed toilet full of Colin's vomit. He and Colin share an affinity for discussing bad breath, dingleberries, sphincter muscles and sitzpinkling (sitting to pee in German). Colin's hair is repeatedly referred to as a Jew-fro.

Lindsey teaches Colin how to shoot a gun. The teens go hunting for wild pigs. TOC threatens to kill Colin if he touches Lindsey, and then later threatens to beat up Colin and Hassan. After Colin tells Lindsey that TOC cheated on her, TOC grabs Lindsey and throws her to the ground. He repeatedly hits and knees Colin, Hassan and several of his other friends. Lindsey grabs him by the testicles.

Gutshot was named after the boxing matches that used to occur there — the rules didn't allow hits below the belt or above shoulders.


Colin's history with the various Katherines is long and tumultuous. He kisses many of them and sees several of their bras. One of the Katherines tells Colin he is a freak because he doesn't have any pubic hair. Colin remembers his first French kiss with Katherine X and making out with Katherine XVI. Colin remembers lying shirtless in bed with Katherine XIX (also shirtless) as she was rubbing her body against his and sighing.

Colin's parents give him a rudimentary birds-and-bees talk that includes references to oral sex. Hassan changes picnic table graffiti that says, "God hates fags" into "God hates baguettes."

One of the town's former residents had a dating motto that Lindsey summed up as, "find 'em, feel 'em, fug 'em, forget 'em." Lindsey was born six months after her parents' wedding. Her parents are still technically married, but Dad left when she was 1.

When Lindsey helps Colin fire a gun, he can feel her breasts against his shoulder. Before meeting Colin, it was Lindsey's life goal to kiss and marry TOC because he and his friends called her a dog and gave her dog food on Valentine's Day when they were young. Although she and TOC have been dating for two years, he's never said, "I love you."

Katrina kisses Hassan frequently and passionately. Hassan enjoys bragging to Colin about the size of his "thunderstick" — something not immediately relevant since he plans to wait for sex until he is married. Colin tells Lindsey that his theorem will work for gay couples as well as straight ones. Heterosexual boys tease each other about being gay. Colin imagines that his eureka moment would be like having 1,000 orgasms.

Colin and Hassan see Katrina naked in the graveyard having sex with TOC. After Hassan yells that he is breaking up with her, they both eventually look away to give her some privacy as she dresses. Colin calls TOC a horse's penis in Dutch. Colin speculates that Hassan has romantic fantasies about Judge Judy.

Lindsey takes off her shirt to stanch the flow of blood from Colin's head. Colin and Hassan notice her purple bra. Lindsey makes up a story about a girl who loves giant penises and who saves Colin from getting his penis bitten off by a lion. Lindsey jokes about having hot sex with Colin (although she doesn't). Lindsey and Colin lie next to each other and kiss. Lindsey writes Colin a fake breakup letter in which she pretends to confess her all-consuming passion for Hassan.

In the appendix, the author explains that in real life there are mathematicians who use math to help predict whether marriages will last.

Other sexual references include phrases such as "sweating like a whore in church," and "easier than getting chlamydia from a hooker." Passing references are made to blowjobs, sodomy and a girl named Vagina.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Nudity: Colin takes a bath while thinking of the Greek philosopher Archimedes, who ran naked down the street after his eureka moment.

Body Shape: Many jokes and comments revolve around Hassan's bulk. While not unkind (in fact, Hassan himself perpetuates many of them), some parents may find them objectionable. References are made to "man-boobs," fatties trusting other fatties and Katrina being a chubby chaser. Katrina also tells Hassan not to lose weight.

Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking: Colin's parents drink wine socially but not excessively. Colin feels that his mom would secretly be pleased if he came home smelling of alcohol because that would mean he had friends. A waiter smokes a cigarette. Lindsey and her friends drink beer while Colin and Hassan choke down half a beer each. Lindsey and Colin drink moonshine in her secret hideout. Lindsey remembers sneaking beer into an assisted living facility as a gift for the retirees. A Gutshot resident was once arrested for being drunk in public. Hassan and the boys cover their bee stings with chewing tobacco.

Other: Hollis' factory manufactures tampon strings. As she is discarding them, one of the boxes opens and the strings float through the air like confetti.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


John Green






Record Label



Dutton Books, a member of Penguin Group


On Video

Year Published



YALSA Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, 2007; YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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