Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

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.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

  1. I’m finding that so many people name Alaska as their favourite JG books, but it is actually my least favourite! I mean, it’s not bad, but Pudge, Alaska and the Colonel are NO comparison to Colin, Hassan and Lindsey… they’re hilarious, and their is another side to Colin rather than restlessly pining after Katherines. It bothered me that Pudge was so completely immersed in Alaska’s apparent allure that he became blinded to everything else. He was too selfish, and hardly allowed himself to learn from it; whereas Colin let his friends teach him about caring more about the people around him. Q is a great character, too; he’s so much more interesting and less two dimensional than Pudge – with Pudge, it’s like he lets Alaska define him. I felt that Q and Colin at least had a more broad worldview. Colin was concerned with more than just his Katherines problems, and harnessed that problem into fixing his other problems, whereas Pudge just let Alaska’s memory consume his time and energy, both when she was alive and after her death. Q, too, allowed himself distance from Margo, and allowed himself to grow into confidence as a result of her disappearance. I just felt that, with Pudge, there was little to no growth. He seemed more or less the same at the end of the book, as at the beginning, apart from one epiphany; but he didn’t change his WAYS, he just REALISED something. I think the greater value in a protagonist is in seeing their epiphany AND seeing the effect it has on them, you know? With Pudge, we didn’t see that. Have you preordered The Fault In Our Stars? 🙂

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Reads of 2011 « Elementary, My Dear Reader

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