Allison's Book Bag

Paper Towns by John Green

Posted on: March 13, 2014

Hilarious, sad, and deep. The first half of Paper Towns by John Green is so funny that I didn’t care if there was more to the story than two twelfth-grade students invoking revenge on their peers. The second half, wherein Quentin spends more his waking hours searching for a missing classmate, still amazingly caused me to chuckle but also led me to reflect. You see, Margo may or may not be who everyone thought she was, which is one reason it’s so difficult for Quentin and his friends to find her. And the more they clues they unearth, the more they start to also realize truths about themselves and how they look at the world.

Part One of Paper Towns is all about the longest day of Quentin’s life, which at first seems to consist of typical high school fare told in a light-hearted but also somewhat tongue-in-cheek style. He and his friends talk about prom, which doesn’t seem to appeal to Quentin. On the other hand, Radar does want to attend, but can’t bring himself to invite his potential girlfriend home with him. Something to do with his family’s eclectic collection. Ben desperately wants a date too, but is haunted by a fake story of how hospitalization for a kidney infection was really because of blood in his urine due to chronic masturbation. Later that day, the three manage to avoid one of the school bullies, who in Quentin’s words: “did not participate in organized sports, because to do so would distract from the larger goal of his life—to one day be convicted of homicide.” Then Quentin’s day is seemingly over, except for his boring and comfortable routine at home of eating dinner, talking to his parents, and messaging friends. Until Margo slides open his bedroom window and takes him out on the town.

Not to party or get wild, but to play some serious pranks on some of their peers. You see, Margo has just found out that her boyfriend is cheating on her. And that her best friend kept the news from her. So, now she wants to get even. To tell you what the pranks involved would be unfair. The hilarity and the sexual tension all lie in how well Green writes the scenes. But I will tell you Margo’s shopping list includes: fish, Vaseline, soft drinks, tulips, tissues, and spray paint. According to the FAQ on Paper Towns, Green’s wife helped him come up with the pranks. Summer camp would never be dull with her around! Besides planning her own revenge, Margo encourages Quentin to pick his own victim. It’s number ten on her list of items to do that night. While the two don’t manage to avoid setting off burglar alarms, they do avoid getting caught until number eleven. As for that last item on the list, it goes down at almost 5:00 in the morning, and is the most innocent in being an excursion to Sea World. Which seems to be done for the sheer thrill of breaking into (or visiting as Margo puts it) a forbidden place in the middle of the night.

Just because they avoid being caught doesn’t however mean their identity isn’t know. Something which Quentin has to live with the next day. While Margo apparently decides to lay low at home. Or does she? Part Two of Paper Towns is about what happened next. Which is that Margo disappears.

It’s also where I started to think about the similarities between John Green’s first three books. All involve male leads. Although Quentin is the least nerdy, he does have at least one geeky friend who is really into rewriting online articles. Moreover, all three male leads start out being relatively innocent about drinking, smoking, and making out. All three also seem to be skinny and perhaps of average looks. Definitely not hot. Into their lives comes an enigma in the form of the female lead. Alaska. Katherine. Margo. They’re all highly attractive and desirable girls. As opposed to the other male leads, Quentin has actually known Margo since childhood. In the sense of talking to her and admiring her. But not in the sense of really knowing who she is inside. And therein lies the theme of Paper Towns, which less directly runs through Green’s earlier books too: “The fundamental mistake I had always made was this, Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.” Just as his other books contain multiple themes, so does Paper Towns. It’s also about being accepted for oneself AND accepting others as themselves.

At this point, where I have now read three of Green’s books, I find myself playing the comparison game. Which is Green’s best novel? While An Abundance of Katherines didn’t quite hit the right chord with me, I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite between Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. You should just read them both. 🙂

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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