Author: John Green
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Speak (US -reprint edition)/ Bloomsbury (UK)
Publication date: September 22, 2009 (US first edition: 2008)/ 3 May 2010 (UK)
Paperback: 320 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Who is the real Margo? Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life – dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. She has disappeared. Q soon learns that there are clues in her disappearance …and they are for him. Trailing Margo’s disconnected path across the USA, the closer Q gets, the less sure he is of who he is looking for.
Why did I read the book: After reading two of his books in the past few months, I can safely say that John Green is a new favourite.
How did I get the book: Review copy from Bloomsbury
I start with the understatement of the century:I read a lot. In fact, I spend quite a lot of my time reading and the majority of books I read are average reads, you know, those books that are good reads, interesting reads even, but not earth-shattering reads. The latter reads are special and don’t happen very often and that is a good thing too because then you don’t become accustomed, and therefore impervious to “special”. When I do read a book that is different and special or find a new author whose books are of that variety of awesome that I am always looking for (I am like a Knight in the quest for The Holy Grail) it makes me want to sing its praises to the world. In plain Smugglevese: I find that I am consumed with love and admiration for John Green’s books. He totally writes Books Made For Ana.
Paper Towns is one of those. It has a great story, great characters, and the writing makes me want to cry because it is so made of awesome. Some may say that John Green writes in recognisable patterns. I read three of his books so far and I can see how one would say that.Yes, there is the geeky boy who is infatuated with an unattainable girl, who has sidekick best friends who at times seem more interesting than the aforementioned geeky boy and two of the books I read also had a road trip, and I hear the only book I haven’t read yet, Looking for Alaska goes pretty much the same way. Here is the catch, even though there are these easily identifiable patterns, they are to me, paradigms from where the author departs: the journey and the destiny are basically different and each book stands on its feet. This means that the books I read by this author, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson are completely independent books, ultimately unlike one another even if they share some similarity in their foundations.
Now that the generalities are out of the way, what about the particulars of this book?
The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightening, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the Queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman
Quentin has been in love with his next door neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman since they were children. Once best friends, their friendship cooled down and they live largely separate, independent lives now. Until one day, a few days before their high school graduation, the ever so popular, coolest person ever, the one and only Margo Roth Spiegelman climbs his window and invites him for a night of revenge against a cheating boyfriend and two former best friends. During that night, Quentin and Margo Roth Spiegelman inevitably reconnect and Quentin hopes that the next day at school everything will be different and perhaps the natural order of things will somehow change. But Margo Roth Spiegelman never shows up. No one seems too concerned because it’s not like Margo Roth Spiegelman hasn’t pulled a disappearing act before. She is even known to leave Bread Crumbs before. It is one of these, a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Quentin finds and reading the highlighted sections makes him wonder that perhaps this time things are more serious and Margo Roth Spiegelman is not coming back, and she might even not be alive.
Quentin then becomes obsessed with finding more clues, to find Margo Roth Spiegelman (dead or alive). He is helped by his two best friends Ben and Radar but Quentin’s quest for Margo Roth Spiegelman is one that is his and his alone to undertake.
Paper Towns is more a book of ideas than a book of characters and I believe that at the centre of it all lies Quentin’s “Quest” for Margo Roth Spiegelman. Page after page is dedicated to the unravelling the mystery of WHO Margo Roth Spiegelman really is as everybody has a different idea, an image of who she is. And like everybody else, I too have my own interpretation of Margo Roth Spiegelman (and not a very flattering one at that). But Margo Roth Spiegelman is not the main character of this book, she is not even the main Idea of the book; she is someone involved in her own Quest with her own issues and ultimately they do not matter even if the book seems to be all about her. It’s not: it’s of course, about the Knight in Shining Armour, Quentin. Cracking Margo Roth Spiegelman’s mystery serves to crack open Quentin’s own life, his relationships with people, his own view of Margo Roth Spiegelman, his future. In a book stocked full of anecdotes, and wonderful observations about life (about making plans and leaving, the Paper Towns and Paper People, Margo’s String Theory, Whitman’s Interconnected Grass, Quentin’s own Cracked Vessel), the most apt one is perhaps a minor one. At school in lit class, the teacher asks the students to write a report of Moby Dick based on two possible interpretations for Captain Ahab. Is he a fool for being obsessed with finding the whale or he is tragically heroic about fighting a battle that he is sure to lose?
It is when Quentin writes his paper and make this unconscious (even perhaps conscious) choice of choosing “heroism” to define Ahab that we find that it reflects Quentin’s actions perfectly. He is a Hero in a Quest and it doesn’t matter if he finds what he is looking for, the Quest itself is what is important and in that sense, the bittersweet ending is absolutely perfection because Quentin has utterly and completely found…himself, even if he wasn’t even lost to start with. There is a certain quietly nostalgic feel to this story – in a way, Quentin is saying good-bye to many things in this book: his high-school, his past, his ideal of Margo Roth Spiegelman and despite having several funny, quirky moments, this is perhaps, the most serious John Greek book I read so far.
I mentioned the writing and it is because of lines such as this:
What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”
that I don’t really care about the small idiosyncrasies and unbelievable plotlines such as Quentin’s friend Ben hooking up with one of the most popular girls in school for example. In the grand scheme of things, this is really a small niggle in an otherwise excellent reading.
When I read my first John Green novel a few months ago (An Abundance o f Katherines) I was inspired by his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability and came up with my own Theorem of Underlying Reading Predictability in which I allocated a numerical value to that book (8), took it to a made-up imaginary graph and then applied my utmost hope that all books I read this year were as good as that one. My non-scientific conclusion was that 2010 was going to be a good reading year. Thus far that prediction has been pretty accurate and Paper Towns is another fabulous book.
“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 led 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.”
Verdict: Paper Towns has a quiet, thoughtful story and is ultimately a book with heart, and soul. John Green is easily my new author crush.
Rating: 8 – Excellent leaning towards a 9
Reading Next:Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson