Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Monday, January 12, 2009

Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green

I'd heard about John Green well before I even knew he was an author. How you might ask? Via his ridiculously funny YouTube videos. It was because of this that I decided that I probably should pick up his books.

So I did.

And when I did, I bought all of them at once. I was that confident that I would like them.

And, well, I was right.

Background on the book:

The impossibly sophisticated but unattainable girl, and a life-altering road trip—for another teen-pleasing read. Weeks before graduating from their Orlando-area high school, Quentin Jacobsen's childhood best friend, Margo, reappears in his life, specifically at his window, commanding him to take her on an all-night, score-settling spree. Quentin has loved Margo from not so afar (she lives next door), years after she ditched him for a cooler crowd. Just as suddenly, she disappears again, and the plot's considerable tension derives from Quentin's mission to find out if she's run away or committed suicide. Margo's parents, inured to her extreme behavior, wash their hands, but Quentin thinks she's left him a clue in a highlighted volume of Leaves of Grass. Q's sidekick, Radar, editor of a Wikipedia-like Web site, provides the most intelligent thinking and fuels many hilarious exchanges with Q. - Publisher's Weekly

In short:

You know that jittery feeling you get deep inside your chest when you finish reading a really fantastic book? How you can't stop thinking about the characters because you've somehow managed to connect to them on this crazy new level and suddenly your whole world feels alive because of it?

Well, that's how I felt when I finished reading Paper Towns by John Green. And not only Paper Towns, but all of his novels. It would be fair to say that John Green's books give me book-highs. They do. There, I said it. Book-highs.

On the surface, Paper Towns is a story about a girl who, single-handedly, changes the life of her neighbor after one, moderately, crazy night. But it's not just that. When you scratch the surface of the novel, it is much deeper than a regular "teen" book. This is a story about a girl who struggles with the image people have of her, a girl who is much deeper than people give her credit for, and who feels so deeply disconnected from everyone that she decides that she no longer wants to be a "paper girl." This is also a story about a boy who does not like change, who likes routine and who desperately needed to be shaken into action.

Paper Towns walks the fine line between humor and sadness with grace. It is a beautiful mix of high school shenanigans, alienation, Whitman, mystery, and, above all, friendship.

There's really nothing I dislike about this novel, so for this review there are no "Things I hate." As always, SPOILER ALERT. You have been warned.

Things I love:

- First and foremost, I love the characters. Point blank. Love. the. characters. Green manages to breathe life into his characters through their quirks and their flaws. It is due to this that they feel real and we are able to connect to them on a deeper level.

- Black Santas. That's all I am going to say. Hilarity forever.

- Radar and the "t-shirt." You know what I'm talking about and, to steal Ben's phrase, "YESSSSSSSSSS!" Amazingness.

- Radar and his obsession with Omictionary (which by the way is now a real thing on the internet. Click here to check it out) is the great thing of my life. I am sadly obsessed with Wikipedia, so I can sympathize.

- I adore Walt Whitman poetry and Song of Myself is really a gorgeous piece.

- Love that Margo collects vinyls. There's something special about vinyl records, don't you think?

- Dr. Holden? Like Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye? Amazingness.

Quotes I love:

It's no secret that I am a quote freak and, gosh darn it, this book has some damn good ones. Allow me to quote for you now:

"That's always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they're pretty. It's like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste."
"When you say nasty things about people, you should never say the true ones, because you can't really fully and honestly take those back, you know? I mean, there are highlights. And there are streaks. And then there are skunk stipes."
Absolutely true.
"We bring the fucking rain, Q. Not the scattered showers."
This is my new favorite quotable quote.

"A message from Margo Roth Spiegelman: Your friendship with her - it sleeps with the fishes."
I love Margo. I'm just facinated by the way her mind works. The things she thinks of are ingenious, really.
"It's more impressive from a distance, I mean. You can't see the wear on things, you know? You can't see the rust or the weeds or the paint cracking. You see the place as someone once imagined it."
"Everything is uglier close up," she said.
"Not you," I answered before thinking better of it."

"You see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail."
"Paper-thin and paper-frail" just...wonderful.
"But you see, I am in a similar situation. I do not control the little devil sititng on my left shoulder. The devil is saying, "PRINT THE PICTURE PRINT THE PICTURE TAPE IT UP ALL OVER SCHOOL DO IT DO IT DO IT." And then on my right shoulder, there is a little tiny white angel. And the angel is saying, "Man, I sure as shit hope all those freshman get their money bright and early on Monday morning."
So do I, little angel. So do I."
Oh how I love Q and his angels.
"Oh come on, Connie. Look, is it sick that it's a blessing to have her out of the house? Of course it's sick. But she was a sickness in this family! How do you look for someone who announces she won't be found, who always leaves clues that lead nowhere, who runs away constantly? You can't!"
I think one of the main problems Margo had was her family. Her parents became apathetic towards her and there's really no quicker way of alienating someone.

"I hit at the dirt with the heels of my fists, and then pounded it again and again, the sand scattering around my hands until I was hitting the bare roots of the tree, and I kept it up, the pain shooting up through my palms and wrists. I had not cried for Margo until then, but now finally I did, pounding against the ground and shouting because there was no one to hear: I missed her I missed her I missed her I miss her. I stayed there even after my arms got tired and my eyes dried up, sitting there and thinking about her until the light got gray."
What an incredible image.
"This image seemed too sad to be true - it all struck me as so lonely and so very unMargo. But all the evidence of the past ten days accumulated toward a surprising conclusion: Margo herself was - at least part of the time - very unMargo."
Aren't we all? Don't we all feel alienated sometimes?
"There was no shortage of ways to see her. I'd been focused on what had become of her, but now with my head trying to understand the multiplicity of grass and her smell rom the blanket still in my throat, I realized that the most important question was who I was looking for. If "What is the grass?" has such a complicated answer, I thought, so, too, must "Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman?" Like a metaphor rendered incomprehensible by its ubiquity, there was room enough in what she had left me for endless imaginings, for an infinite set of Margos."

"You're my designated driver! Yes! You are so designated! I love that you answered! That's so awesome! I have to be home by six! And I designate you to get me there! YESSSSSSS!"
"The longer I do my job the more I realize that humans lack good mirrors. It's so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel."

"Margo Roth Spiegelman was a person, too. And I had never quite thought of her that way, not really; it was a failure of all my previous imaginings. All along - not only since she left, but for a decade before - I had been imagining her without listening, without knowing that she made as poor a window as I did. And so I could not imagine her as a person who could feel fear, who could feel isolated in a roomful of people, who could be shy about her record collection because it was too personal to share. Someone who might read travel books to escape having to live in the town that so many people escape to. Someone who - beause no one thought she was a peron - had no one to really talk to.
And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn't being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her. I thought of her asleep on the carpet with only that jagged sliver of sky above her. Maybe Margo felt comfortable there because Margo the person lived like that all the time: in an abandoned room with blocked-out windows, the only light pouring in through holes in the roof. Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made - and that she had, in fairness, always lef 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."
"And finally it was too much. I could not talk myself down from the feeling, and the feeling became unbearable. I reached in deep to the recesses of my locker. I pushed everything - photographs and notes and books - into the trash can. I left the locker open and walked away. As I walked past the band room, I could hear through the walls the muffled sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance." I kept walking. It was hot outside, but not as hot as usual. It was bearable. There are sidewalks most the way home, I thought. So I kept walking. And as paralyzing and upsetting as all the never agains were, the final leaving felt perfect. Pure. The most distilled possible form of liberation. Everything that mattered except one lousy picture was in the trash, but it felt so great."
I think this is a great way of looking at "the end of an era." Turn your back and don't look back...

"The truth is that whenever I went up to the top of the SunTrust Building -including that last time with you - I didn't really look down and think about how everything was made of paper. I looked down and thought about how I was made of paper. I was the flimsy-foldable person, not everyone else. And here's the thing about it . People love the idea of a paper girl. They always have. And the worse thing is that I loved it, too. I cultivated it, you know? Because it's kind of great, being an idea that everybody likes. But I could never be the idea to myself, not all the way. And Agloe is a place where a paper creation became real. A dot on the map became a real place, more real than the people who created the dot could ever have imagined. I thought maybe the paper paper cutout of a girl could start becoming real here also. And it seemed like a way to tell that paper girl who cared about popularity and clothes and everything else: 'You are going to the paper towns. And you are never coming back.'"
I am at a loss for words. I really do think everyone has a bit of Margo in them. Truly.
"The physical space between us evaporates. We play the broken strings of our instruments one last time....Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this cracked darkness."
Perfect ending.

All in all:

If you like books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Paper Towns is a must read. It is carefully constructed with interesting characters, funny dialogue, and pseudo-real scenarios. Really looking forward to seeing what John Green writes in the future.

Rating for Paper Towns by John Green: A

P.S. In case you are wondering, I got the Blue Margo cover. And I'm really happy I did.

P.P.S. Playlist will be up soon. Sit tight. EDIT: Here you go:

  1. You didn't mention Radar's quote about accepting others for who they are instead of expecting them to be you.

    Posted on November 7, 2009 at 12:57 AM

  2. The cover I got was that of a map with a big red thumbtack at the middle. I want to get all book covers! Haha.

    I agree, this is a very good read. I can't put the book down once I started it. :) Way to go, John Green! :>

    BTW, it's nice of you putting those sites mentioned in the book like the Omictionary. Kudos to you and your site! \O/

    Posted on December 27, 2010 at 10:03 AM

  3. Anonymous Said,

    I bought the book as a split second decision in line at Wal-Mart (the cover with the actors that will portray Q and Margo) and best decision this summer yet.

    Posted on July 2, 2015 at 1:02 PM


Post a Comment