This book almost, almost made me fall out of love with John Green. It took nearly a month for me to finish reading it, partly because I was busy with the end of the school year. But if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t really care about Quentin, Margo or his friends. Luckily, my views changed drastically during the last 100 pages.
Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin Jacobsen and his neighbor/crush Margo Roth Spiegelman. One night, Margo appears outside of Quentin’s bedroom window and takes him on a night time adventure around Orlando. By the night’s end, Quentin is convinced everything will change and that the relationship between him and Margo will continue to thrive for the remainder of their senior year. But when Margo skips town with very little clues as to where she is or even if she’s safe, Quentin tries to track her down, while also trying to understand the girl who lived next door to him since they were children.
I think the reason why John Green is so successful is because he is an exceptional writer. The other day, I had a conversation with a coworker who said that good writing can save bad stories. And I think that’s sort of the case here. I’m not saying Paper Towns was a bad story. I did enjoy it, particularly the actual road trip section of the story and I think there were some universal truths peppered in here. But Quentin and Margo and the other characters all felt familiar. While scrolling through the Goodreads review for this book, I stopped on one review and nodded along as the reviewer pointed out that Quentin and Margo seem no different from Miles and Alaska from Looking for Alaska or Colin and Katherine from An Abundance of Katherines. I think Green works with a specific set of characters and just places them in different situations and environments to see what type of trouble they can get into. And it works because he takes his time writing and exploring whatever theme he chose for that particular novel. I’m not pointing this all out to say that Green doesn’t deserve the praise that he receives. In fact, I believe it’s difficult confining a story to a handful of themes and only the best of the best could accomplish such a feat. But one reason why I wasn’t too fond of Paper Towns was because I felt like I encountered these characters and problems already in Green’s other novels.
I shouldn’t say I wasn’t fond of this book. I enjoyed it. There were some good parts. I loved the road trip in the last section. It was spontaneous and included a healthy dose of heart-warming moments followed almost immediately by funny scenes. It actually felt like Green hit a good stride here with a mixture of dramatic and funny scenes. And the road trip, or rather the conclusion of the trip, was surprising. I thought it would lead to a pretty predictable ending (which I won’t spoil). But Green likely anticipated this and decided to give his readers an ending that felt fresh and genuine. So I appreciate him for that.
I know I spent an earlier paragraph talking about how the characters all felt familiar, but I would like to say that I liked Quentin’s friends. Radar and Ben were hilarious in their own way. And I loved how they were quick to point out Quentin’s BS when they needed to, though they were always firmly in his corner. Radar stuck out more than anyone else. He seemed like the solemn but wise friend, so when he spoke, you could usually tell he was going to impart some great knowledge:
Radar looked at me sideways. “Of course he is. You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it’s going with my girlfriend–but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you. My parents have a shit ton of black Santas, but that’s okay. They’re them. I’m too obsessed with a reference Web site to answer my phone sometimes when my friends call, or my girlfriend. That’s okay, too. That’s me. You like me anyway. And I like you. You’re funny, and you’re smart, and you may show up late, but you always show up eventually.”
I’ve read all of John Green novels, except for the two that he co-wrote with other authors. (Trust me, both are on my TBR list). It’s interesting to see how his skills as a story-teller have improved with each new novel and I’m sure whatever novel he publishes next will be just as enjoyable as his other works. If you’re new to John Green, then I would recommend The Fault In Our Stars (though I wonder if my feelings for it would still be the same after re-reading it). If you’ve already read TFIOS then pick up Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. They are both filled with hilarious moments that border on the outrageous, while a few tear inducing scenes creep in the story from time to time.