Monday, February 7

Paper Towns - John Green

Eighteen-year-old Quentin has always had a mild crush on his neighbour Margo - once close, their paths diverged when they were eight and discovered the body of a man in a nearby park, for while Q was apprehensive, freaked and concerned about zombies, Margo Roth Spiegleman was invigorated. Ten years later, Margo Roth Speigelman appears at his bedroom window, like she used to, encouraging him to join her on a midnight adventure. There wasn't any question that he wouldn't do what she said, and though Q doesn't really understand most of what they're doing, he has more fun, mixed with more terror, than he can ever remember having before.
The next day Q's convinced that he and Margo Roth Speigelman have a future, of some kind. When she doesn't show at school he figures she's tired from the adventure of the previous night. But Margo's gone.
Paper Towns is in part about Q's search for Margo Roth Spiegelman, but it's also a coming-of-age novel about his search for himself, and his dawning discovery that who people are and our perceptions of them are very different things - a journey in which Walt Whitman's Song of Myself plays an integral role.
There are many things I really enjoyed about Paper Towns, from Q's clueless psychologist parents (who "generally believed that I was the most well-adjusted ... person on the planet, since my psychological well-being was proof of their professional talents") to the epic roadtrip Q, his best friends Radar and Ben, and Margo Roth Spiegelman's former friend Lacey. Mostly, though, I liked the lovely lines and valuable passages strewn through the novel, like Radar's insight that
You know what your problem is, Quentin? You keep expecting people to not be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and never being interested in anything except Margo Roth Spiegelman, and, for, like, never asking me about how it's going with my girlfriend - but I don't give a shit, man, because you're you.
Or the observation that "Talking to a drunk person [when you're sober] was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain-damaged three-year-old." Or Margo's statement that
That's always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would wwant to be around someone because they're pretty. It's like picking your breakfast cereal based on color instead of taste.
Although, as a believer in random capitalisation (because "the rules of capitalisation are so unfair to words in the middle") she and I will forever be at odds.
The title, incidentally, comes from a copyrighting trap of map creators, which is only one of many interesting trivialities Paper Towns furnished me with.
Despite all these elements in its favour, I did close Paper Towns with a slight sense of anticlimax, though a happy-ever-after ending would have run counter to the whole premise of the novel. I suspect that, though I enjoyed the ride, some of that was because the characters, particularly the protagonists, are far more self-aware and perceptive than feels credible, though perhaps I'm just not spending enough time with young adults. I also have a copy of Green's YA novel An Abundance of Katherines, and hope for more joy with that. - Alex

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