By John Green
Paperback, 305 pages
From the moment I read The Fault in Our Stars, I decided I loved John Green – at this point, I’m happy to read anything he’s written. Paper Towns is the third Green book I’ve read (Looking For Alaska is the other) and I’d say it’s third on my list of his books, thus far. I think that even had I read something else first, Fault would be my favorite, however, I still have three more of his books to read, so anything is possible!
Paper Towns follows Quentin on his journey to find the mysterious Margo Roth Spiegelman after she disappears right before high school graduation. They were friends as children and drifted apart over the years, but Q has always held a candle for Margo. She comes to his window one night and convinces him to help her get revenge on some of her “friends” with some well-planned pranks – the next day she’s gone and no one knows where. But she’s left a few clues for Q and he decides to follow them and on the way discovers more about Margo and himself than he thought he would.
What I liked:
I like John Green’s writing style. Period. Perhaps I’m biased, but I’m not sure that he could write a book that I would truly dislike. I especially enjoy the male characters he creates and Q is no exception. He’s a mixture of awkward and charming and despite having graduated high school several years ago, I felt he was relatable able and was someone I’d like to be friends with. I also liked Q’s friends, and the fact that they had fairly different personalities and interests than his own – I find too often in young adult novels there’s a group of characters and they’re all so similar it’s hard to tell them apart! They’re diverse but without being your Breakfast Club bunch of cliché stereotypes – the jock, nerd, badass, etc. [Side note: I’m not hating on the Breakfast Club in any way; I love that movie!] At one point in the book, Q’s friend Radar even touches base on this topic:
“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I could hate you for being massively unpunctual…but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you….just saying: stop thinking Ben should be you, and he needs to stop thinking you should be him.”
This is an excellent lesson that I think we all need to try to remember. I think that we all get fed up with our friends and family for whatever reason because they don’t see things the way we think they should.
I also liked Q’s relationship with his parents, who are psychologists. He’s a good kid, gets good grades, obeys curfew (most of the time) and his parents trust him. Yet he’s not afraid to be daring, to sneak around and take a risk and he’s also very honest with his parents about certain issues too. I think that once again, it’s a good mix. He’s not a perfect little angel, but he’s not the type to hate his parents or constantly whine about how they don’t understand him. I just really enjoyed Q’s perspective – as much as I love reading young adult/teen fiction, I do find myself getting easily annoying with main characters. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on myself, because I’m just not in that mindset anymore, or if there aren’t enough well-written teen characters out there, but Q kept me invested in this book.
What I didn’t like:
Margo Roth Spiegelman.
I don’t think I’m the only one with this mindset. Honestly, she felt really pretentious and reminded me a lot of Alaska. She didn’t seem like a real girl. I’m not saying that there aren’t teenage girls out there who are adventurous, mysterious, and poetic, who are able to socialize with the jocks and nerds alike, who like all genres of music and read Whitman’s poetry and don’t care about their looks. But I certainly never knew anyone like that, nor did I ever hear stories about a teen like this either. It also annoyed me that Q uses her full name almost every time he refers to her, although I realize this is part of how he sees her – as this amazing girl whose full name deserves to be used because she’s so much more than any other girl.
But Q is clearly idealizing her because throughout middle school and high school they’ve drifted apart to the point where she barely speaks to him, despite them being neighbors. He’s in love with the idea of MRS and even Q starts to realize on his journey to find her that he doesn’t know her the way he thought he did:
“These are things I cannot imagine, and I realize that I cannot imagine them because I didn’t know Margo. I knew how she smelled, and I knew how she acted in front of me…and I knew that she was funny and smart and just generally more than the rest of us. But I didn’t know what brought her here, or what kept her here, or what made her leave.”
This, however, doesn’t really change Q’s opinion of her overall. He is still convinced he loves her (and maybe he does!) and he still seems to be wearing rose-colored glasses where she’s concerned. I enjoyed the way the other characters grew and interacted, but Margo just annoyed me.
The ending also left me unsatisfied. It felt unresolved and while I realize this can work in some cases, here I just felt like I needed closure. It wasn’t a very emotionally strong or moving ending and I had higher expectations.
Overall, if you’re a fan of John Green, I think you’ll enjoy this, though it’s nowhere near as moving as Fault or even Alaska – not all of his books have to make me cry, so I’m okay with this. If you’ve never read John Green, this might also be a good place to start. I think it’s an excellent display of his character development and will give you a feel for his style.
How about you guys? For all you John Green fans, where does Paper Towns rank on your list? Have you read it yet?