I borrowed Paper Towns from a friend yesterday; it’s actually the NZ/Aus version. So it was a little odd to read an American story with all those extra ‘u’s and Mum instead of Mom, not gonna lie.
Paper Towns is the story of Quentin – Q to his friends -, senior in high school whose neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, wakes him up one night for a crazy adventure. The next morning, she gone, run away or disappeared, leaving behind a trail of clues Q, with the help of his friends, must figure out to find her.
Like all of John Green’s work that I’ve read so far (Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars), this story is a play on the manic pixie dream girl concept.
(Nathan Rabin: The manic pixie dream girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”)
His whole life, Q has had a crush on Margo, but in high school they ended up in very different social spheres. Written in first person, this book is Q’s coming of age novel. Much of it is Q learning about other people’s inner life: the realization that his friends and peers are the star of their own story as much as he is the star of his. There are some lovely gems in Green’s writing – the moment when Q quietly notes his parents like each other and he likes that, even as they’re shown bickering several times; a policeman’s pretty fair assessment of Margo’s future; Ben’s insightful comments on the difference between having a crush on someone dating them. Green is a talented YA author with a keen insight into what it is to be a teenager and Paper Towns is no exception.
Q hangs out with band nerds but isn’t unhappy with his social lot in life and appreciates his good friends without longing for a different “popular kid” life. This is probably the strongest point of the novel – the acknowledgment that you can be perfectly happy with your high school experience without being a popular kid. Q is well-liked by his group but not popular and even when he gets the chance to hang with the popular kids, he doesn’t even consider it a possibility. It’s just not his scene. I really like stories that take the middle space between popular kid and bullied underdog; it’s where most of us grow up but it often feels like it gets the least attention in YA.
That being said, the main lesson Q learns is that women are people too, and, honestly, I’m not terribly fond of that as a plot line. Q is 18 and has both dated and had female friends before, as well as a respected and loving mother, but apparently the thought of a woman (Margo) having a rich inner life is just a total revelation from him. It’s a little disheartening that Q literally had to go on a crazy, whirlwind adventure to learn something that should have been integrated into his worldview a long time ago. I think it bothers me most because there’s no negative repercussions for his lack of understanding as women as people. His journey is all about self-growth and benefits only him; there’s nothing wrong with his previous views except that they limit him. It’s really disheartening in a way.
If you like John Green or YA, you should definitely give this a try! If you’re a little tired of an overly-male-centered perspective or if you like your adventures dark and tense, then, sadly, this might not be the book for you.