Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2008

Margo Roth Spiegelman is a legend. She has led mass TP-ing efforts; has gone to Mississippi for days with the only clue being the four letters M-I-S-P she left in her alphabet soup; has broken into many of the theme parks around her subdivision in Orlando, Florida. Quentin, known as Q, has loved her for pretty much his whole life. And so when she comes to his window around midnight with the proposal of helping her with a revenge-seeking mission, he only hesitates for a moment before agreeing. What follows is an incredibly awesome night.

But the next day, Margo isn't at school. After a few days it becomes clear that this isn't like when she ran off before. And then Q starts to find the clues. With his friends Ben and Radar, and the indispensable online user-generated encyclopedia Omnictionary, Q begins to piece it all together. But the closer he gets to an answer, the more nervous he gets. Where is Margo? And will he want to find her?

Let me just start out by saying John Green is one of the greatest teen writers of all time. I love him and the craziness he comes up with in his books. All of Margo's pranks? Pure genius. Not to mention the easily grasped philosophical musings Q has in his internal monologues. There's a lot of deep thinking going on here, and this in turn makes the reader consider his or her own life and the way they live it. In particular, how we all imagine others to be what we expect them to be without ever really getting to know them. Green keeps coming back to this over and over in the book, in a bunch of different ways.

Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" is a key part of the story and Margo's clues. Not only does he use it in a clever and incredibly useful way for the plot, he also does a lot of analysis with it that readers can actually begin to understand what Whitman is talking about (and believe me, that poem is not easy). How many readers went out and read some Whitman after reading Paper Towns? I know the answer is at least two—I did, and so did one of the (12-year-old!) girls in my teen reading group. This is awesome; I mean really, how many authors can get teens interested in American poets like Whitman? I feel like I'm a better person for it, and I actually learned something about poetry (sidenote: hooray National Poetry Month!).

The characters are so much fun. Ben is absolutely hilarious and completely over the top in pretty much everything, and Radar is a nerd-tastic Omnictionary-obsessed dude whose parents own "the world's largest collection of black Santas." No joke. Q is also very likable, but unfortunately his personality kind of pales in comparison to his even more eccentric friends. That said, their friendship might be the best part of the book in my opinion. The dynamics of their interactions and snappy dialogue make me all smiles—I certainly laughed out loud at parts (in public, I might add). I was glad to see so much of them in the story.

My only complaint is that, despite all his philosophizing, I feel like I didn't really get to know Q, or rather he lacked personality. At times it almost felt like Green was using him as a mouthpiece for his (admittedly outstanding) ideas. But this complaint is not enough to make me like this book less than I do.

About a year ago, I listened to this on audio, and I have to say the narrator, Dan John Miller, was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. All of his voices were different for each character, and his characterizations were superb. I would absolutely listen to this again.

Disclosure: I bought this book from for my personal library.

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