Continuing my streak of John Green novels (following Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines), I just finished Paper Towns and, of course, I really enjoyed it. Now, it may be its proximity to the greatness that is Looking for Alaska, but it wasn’t as good–though it’s still one of the best of the year. However, just because I didn’t proclaim that love to all of Twitter-and-Facebook-dom as I did with Alaska, doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic novel. It’s just different.
Quentin Jacobson has loved his next-door neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar since they were nine. It hasn’t been a gushy love, one where he pines endlessly after her. Rather, he’s simply been aware of her; he’s known that he has no chance with her, for she stands solidly out of his league, with her posse of popular friends and he with his group of band geek friends. One night, however, she shows up at his bedroom window, her blue eyes standing out against the black face paint. She takes him on an all-night caper filled with pranks upon the people who have betrayed her and spent high school tormenting him. She instills in him a confidence he didn’t know he had, and he thinks they might have a chance together, now that she’s burning bridges and has crossed the invisible social line. Much to Q’s shock, however, Margo does not turn up at school the next morning. She’s run away, it seems, leaving behind a trail of clues that were intended solely for him. But what do they mean? Is he meant to find her? Does he want to find her? Her vanishing begins to affect those left behind, particularly Q and his friends as they band together to discover what has become of their missing friend.
The more I think about this book, the more I appreciate it and, again, think that it’s one every teen should read. One of the prominent themes of the novel is identity. Margo calls herself and the people she hangs out with “Paper People,” and her hometown of Orlando a “Paper Town.” Paper Towns refers to a false front, something without substance but fronted by a lot of glitz and glamor–an affliction suffered by many people. Facades are a significant aspect of many lives, a comfortable place in which to lose oneself while preserving those pieces closest to the heart.
As Q and his friends prepare to graduate from high school, entering into a period of change, they learn new things about themselves and their relationships. As with all of Green’s novels, there are many literary touchstones throughout the story; with this, appropriately, there is an exploration of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Identity and truth are explored in depth, as well as expectations versus reality.
There are times in this novel, as with Green’s others, that I laughed out loud, and others where I was emotionally affected by the journey his characters take. It’s an immensely readable and relatable novel. The relationships between his characters feel genuine, as well as the situation–maybe not the elaborate set of clues, but the need for answers and the unrelenting, eager search for truth is right at the heart of the human condition.
I’m currently in the middle of Green’s latest book, a collaboration with David Levithan, called Will Grayson, Will Grayson.