In my constant dallying with YA fiction, I saw a lot of recommendations for John Green, who writes non-fantasy YA. So Paper Towns
is another one of my random reads. This one worked out better than my last random YA selection; Green has a convincing voice and his teenage protagonists were all likeable enough. While being outside the demographic for the book's characters and audience, the tone of the writing sometimes irritated me, I was able to recognize that this was because I am past the age where penis jokes are a source of endless hilarity, not because of any inherent flaw in the book.
Really, this was kind of a comfort read for anyone who enjoyed John Hughes movies in the 80s. Paper Towns
is about Quentin, your basic nerdy high school senior with his nerd friends, and the hot girl next door who used to be his best friend when they were little. Margo Roth Spiegelman is a sort of Manic Pixie Dream girl, but a slightly disturbed one. She comes through Quentin's bedroom window one night, drags him along on a mission of vengeance against all those who have wronged her (which turns out to be merely a list of petty adolescent grudges: the predictable Cheating Boyfriend, the Undermining Best Friend, etc.), and then, the next day she disappears.
The rest of the book involves Quentin trying to figure out where Margo went, while simultaneously realizing things about himself and his friends. His friends also grow and change over the course of the book, all of them awkwardly emerging from dorky adolescence into the beginnings of adult self-awareness. But although there are moments of depth and poignancy, this is more teen caper than Dickensian bildungsroman
; the characters only occasionally stop for a little self-reflection in between prom angst, malicious practical jokes, parties, and finally a road trip to New York, destination: Margo, and the "paper town" of the title.
I enjoyed Paper Towns
and would probably become a John Green fan if I were younger, but it's kind of like The Breakfast Club
: a bunch of teenagers on a journey to self-discovery is more interesting when you are a teenager. That said, I liked the balance of each character's development: the Nice Guy, the nerd, the girl-crazy dork, the Pretty Girl, and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, are all more than those labels, and each one has something to contribute to the narrative.
I found Margo to be the least sympathetic character in the book, though it's fitting as she's the "MacGuffin" of the book, so her character turns out to be the least accessible in the end:
The fundamental mistake I had always made—and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make—was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.
3.5 stars, which I'm rounding to 4 'cause I would have liked it more when I was the right age to appreciate it and think it was profound and heartwarming and bittersweet, etc.