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Book Review: Paper Towns

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Date Published: 2008
Number of Pages: 305

Quentin Jacobson has been in love with the enigmatic yet untouchable Margo Roth Spiegelman as long as he can remember, so when dressed as a ninja she breaks into his bedroom and convinces him to join her on a revenge themed adventure he finds he can’t refuse her. But when day breaks Margo has completely disappeared,  with no signs as to where she’s gone. That is until Quentin realizes she’s left behind clues for him.  As Q discovers clue after clue, he realizes the closer he gets to finding Margo the less he really knows about her.

As I’m certain it is evident by now that I’m kind of in love with John Green’s novels, Paper Towns is the third of his quartet that I’ve read and (no surprise here) I adore it. Funny and endearing, it is the quintessential coming of age story with a great cast of characters and quite frankly one of the most likeable leads ever.

The plot is both familiar and unique; Quentin’s longing for Margo Roth Spiegelman is a common plot line in a JG novel (boy loves girl, girl seems unattainable – don’t get me wrong, this never gets old in my world but it’s definitely a recurring theme.) However what makes this story so different is that Quentin never really tries to win over Margo. He resigns himself to the idea that she will always be untouchable. But he does allow himself to be swept up in her tide and to be influenced by her sense of adventure.

Paper Towns  is really a quest story – Quentin, seemingly the only person who’s Paper Towns Pinactually concerned for MRS’ safety and mental well-being quickly becomes consumed by the idea of finding Margo, of cracking the code behind the clues she’s left behind and hopefully finding her before it’s too late. As he moves from clue to clue and realizes how little he truly knows about the girl he’s seemingly loved his entire life Q manages to learn more about himself and about what he wants in life. Most importantly as the story progresses Quentin’s maturity and intelligence allow him to see that despite Margo’s assessment of him he is in fact confident and heroic because he, unlike her, has never felt the need to perform to please others. That’s a pretty strong message to put out there.

If I’m being honest, I did find it rather morbid that throughout a large portion of the book Margo’s fate – whether she’s dead or alive, the question of whether Q is searching for Margo herself or just her body – remains ambiguous. The sinister possibility about Margo’s fate does however add urgency and a sense of suspense that help with the pace of the novel.

As the story unfolds and more and more is revealed about the real Margo Roth Spigelman Green provides insight into the mind of a lonely and unhappy girl, who from the outside seems to lead the most charmed life – she’s the most popular girl in school, everyone wants to be her, yet she feels lost and alone. Margo’s unhappiness manifests in this need to be found. A desire for someone to follow the clues she leaves behind in order to learn who she really is. This of course is misconstrued as an attention grab – and I guess in a way it is. But not for the reasons others assume. At first I was kind of over Margo – I didn’t understand why she needed so much more attention when she was already pretty much the center of everyone’s universe. But as I thought more and more about it I came to understand that Margo was more complex than that. She may have been the most popular girl in school but that was all people were really seeing. No one really took the time to know her. That would be pretty lonely. That being said I found myself having a bit of a love/hate relationship with MRS. Her numerous complexities are often at odds with each other and well, she’s kind of self-involved.

On the other hand I absolutely adored Quentin. He’s funny, charming, a bit self-deprecating, a good friend and just unbelievably likeable – especially when I compare him to Colin in An Abundance of Katherines (who in retrospect I kind of don’t like, I mean he absolutely pales in comparison to Quentin and there’s just no comparing him to Augustus Waters – who’s name alone makes me swoon.)

The story is broken up into four acts – the final act, which will from here on out be known as The Road Trip – was epic. It was absolutely everything you would want a road trip with friends to be (minus the cow debacle). Green is the master of great chemistry amongst characters and Paper Towns really highlights this particular talent. The relationship between Quentin, Ben and Radar is identifiable; you can easily name one friend who reminds you of one of these characters. It’s real and honest, their banter is kind of everything. The Road Trip is by far the highlight of the entire book, which is saying something since the overall story is excellent.

This is a quest that is entirely worth taking part in if not for the humour (Margo’s fish message “MS’s love For you: it Sleeps With the Fishes”, the confederate flag t-shirt for Radar) and the overall chemistry between the characters – but especially the enigmatic Margo and Quentin – who it turns out is a bit of an enigma himself…wrapped in a paradox.

This is a story I’d love to see on film, I can’t even begin to imagine who I’d want to play any of these characters but I can’t help but feel that it would be awesome.

Overall Paper Towns is as entertaining as it is touching. And I think thus far my second favourite of John Green’s novels because who am I kidding? Nothing is going to beat The Fault in Our Stars but Paper Towns is definitely a story I would and will happily re-read.