Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Genre: YA fiction
Publisher: Dutton Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library.
First line: The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.
Quentin, the protagonist of Paper Towns, is a high school senior, all set to graduate high school in a few weeks. His life consists of hanging out with his band geek friends, playing video games, studying, and worshiping Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. Q and Margo were friends as children, but their social circles no longer intertwine in the world of high school. So Q is more than a little surprised when Margo shows up at his window one night, dressed in black, and asks him to go on a revenge spree with her. Margo and Q have one amazing night full of daring exploits, and then Margo disappears.
It’s not the first time – Margo has run away before, and this time her parents aren’t going to look for her. Q is worried, though, and starts to look for the clues Margo always leaves behind when she runs. As he looks, he begins to realize that the Margo he is looking for may not be Margo at all.
This is my first experience with author John Green, but it certainly won’t be my last. I loved so many things about this book: Quentin is a fantastic character. In some ways, he’s a typical teenage boy, but he’s also thoughtful and intelligent and responsible. His friends Radar and Ben are hysterical (though I found the adolescent sexual humor a bit over the top – do teenage boys really talk like that?). I liked the fact that Quentin has a healthy relationship with his parents – an unusual thing in YA fiction.
But the best thing about this book is the writing. While plot and character still drive the book, the writing is brilliant. Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” plays a big part in the plot, and the scenes in which Q is reading it, thinking about it, and discussing it could be a manual on how to read and experience a poem.
Green deals deftly with the feelings and issues that graduating seniors all deal with: the future – including college and marriage; independence and the process of breaking away from your parents and home; nostalgia for the high school years that are coming to an end. As Q and his friends track Margo and her bread crumbs, these topics are all handled with depth of emotion and understanding. I would have loved to read this book when I was in high school.