Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns

John Green

SUMMARY: Quentin Jacobsen has spent the majority of his life in love with the brilliantly mysterious and adventure-addicted girl next door, Margo Roth Speigelman. When Q and Margo were nine, they discovered a dead body together. However, since then their interactions have been limited and vaguely friendly at best. While Margo is well-known and admired for her exploits both small and large at Winter Park High, Q is content with his safe and generally anonymous life of school days spent hanging out near the band room between classes with his closest friends Radar and Ben and weekends spent playing videogames. But Q’s comfortably predictable life is suddenly interrupted when Margo appears outside his window for the first time in about nine years. And what follows is a bizarre and thrilling night that Q hopes will be the beginning of a whole new life in which he becomes Margo’s new partner in her glamorous escapades. But when the sun rises, Margo has disappeared and gone from merely being mysterious to becoming a mystery herself. But when Q explores further, trying to understand their night together, he realizes that Margo is a mystery meant to be solved—by him. As he follows the strange, seemingly disconnected clues from Walt Whitman to abandoned trailers, Q begins to question whether he ever really knew the girl he adored for so long.

ONESMARTCUPCAKE SAYS: John Green strikes again with another smart, funny, and emotionally resonant novel. Before I fully explain why I so thoroughly enjoyed this book, I want to address some critiques of the novel.

In developing this review, I glanced around the online book world to feel out some other reactions to the novel. Paper Towns has been criticized by some readers as being too similar to Green’s earlier novels, especially in terms of characterization. Is it true that Q shares certain qualities of intellectualism and geekiness with Miles and Colin? Yes. Does this nerdy and quirky hero have an intense infatuation with a brilliant but unreachable girl? Yes, he does. However, I argue that despite such similarities, Paper Towns stands out as its own work with its own separate (albeit connected) sets of questions and themes. As in his earlier novels, Green explores the difficulty in truly knowing and understanding another human being. He continues to delve into our constant tendency to perceive others through the window of our own needs, desires, and interests and so creating images of people that usually turn out to be much further from reality than we would like to admit. But while Looking for Alaska dealt with these themes in the larger context of dealing with death and grief and An Abundance of Katherines worked with them in context of the unpredictability of life, Paper Towns examines them head-on, utilizing a detective story format to explore the big mystery of human interaction and relationships.

As usual, Green’s characters are intelligent and quirky and his novel is interwoven with a diversity of seeming unrelated but interesting topics ranging this time from music to cartography to Walt Whitman. The text also manages to capture that strange time at the end of high school when everyone is on the verge of entering a new world and a new life separated from the familiar people and places and when the resulting uncertainty can force unprecedented reactions out of a variety of people.

I really enjoyed the detective story/mystery aspect of this novel. I’m an avid mystery reader and here, Green takes the predictable structure of a traditional detective story and uses it to follow Q’s simultaneous search for Margo and for more honest relationships. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor embedded into the narrative, especially through Margo’s ingenious plots and Q and his gang’s final, epic road trip. Green also manages to achieve some truly lovely emotional moments between his characters, especially the unsure but determined Q and the fascinating (and somewhat selfish) Margo. Overall, John Green continues to produce witty YA fiction and accordingly my massive literary crush on him continues to grow.

4 ½ / 5 STARS

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