Paper Towns

Paper TownsPaper Towns by John Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You can see her: *that* girl in your high school, the sparkly, witty, smart one, the one everyone adores and some suspect might be way cooler if she wasn’t also the popular kids’ ringleader. Her name might be, for example, Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Your high school also had a Quentin, Margo’s next door neighbor, a true Everyman: smart, quirky, has a few smart and quirky friends but mostly avoids the drama of the high school scene. Also, loves Margo.

What your high school didn’t have, likely, was a Margo who could go off-the-rails in adventurous/dangerous and almost mean directions. Your Margo didn’t take off unannounced for days at a time. She didn’t leave obscure clues, hoping against hope that her bewildered parents might know her well enough to decipher her vague hints into discernible points on a map. Mystique, thy name is Margo Roth Spiegelman, and there is only one of thee.

Paper Towns is fun and meaningful – a high school saga of pranks and prom; social circles crashing, intersecting and bisecting like amoebas in a petri dish; a hero’s quest of a mystery; and a young adult road trip – all mashed up and beautifully written.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the characters – I like high school kids, and I’ve known kids like each and every character Green writes here. I know these adults, too – the well-meaning ones who think too much, the ones with something to prove, and the ones so overwhelmed they give up. Green’s pace moves from fun pranks night to thoughtful pondering to search and rescue; he varies the fast and slow.

Two critiques:
1) It took me a while to understand the Paper Towns motif. Green’s obviously thought it through but hasn’t written it clearly enough, especially for a young audience, especially as Margo originally introduces the idea.
2) I don’t think I’ve ever known actual teenagers who think quite as profoundly and philosophically as Margo, and eventually, Q. The poetry, the literary references, the ability to infer and refer so deeply and widely, it’s all fabulous but a tad unbelievable for most 18-year-olds. But then again, we’re not supposed to believe that Margo and Q are average 18-year-olds.

The book has a beautiful message we all need to learn and relearn:
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other…” (p302). Let’s stop being ideas for others, and seeing others as ideas, and start being real people with visible cracks that allow our inner light to shine through.

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