Paper Towns by John Green

papertownsBook NamePaper Towns

Author: John Green

Pages: 305

Genre: YA fiction

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Format: Paper-back checked out from the local library

Book Blurb: Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back 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. But Q soon learns that there are clues–and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.

My Words: I was in two minds, literally, while reading this book of John Green. My philosophical mind which craved more life lessons that I have come to expect from John Green’s books and my psychological mind that is, in simple words – a normal, everyday 30-something who loves love stories, big bang theory and the Gilmore girls!
So my philosophical mind looks forward to the enlightening that awaits Q on his journey to find Margo – much like Santiago from The Alchemist; whereas my psychological mind is frustrated with Q for going after a girl who ignores him for 9 years except for that one fun-filled night when she takes him gallivanting across town executing revenge plans on her enemies(not to mention about her being the most shallow and selfish character in the book)! As can be seen from my introductory ranting, I have mixed feelings about this book, however much I may be in love with John Green.

I have to get this off my chest after reading this book and after I have ignored it in the last 3 books:
1. Margo and Quentin are exactly the same people as Colin and Katherine and Miles and Alaska. Quentin/Colin/Miles is this very thoughtful, somewhat nerdy young man who is on the cusp of reaching out and grabbing life by the strings however he can. I have to agree though, that Gus and Hazel are slightly different characters than above mentioned.
2. Quentin/Colin/Miles/Gus is also enamored with Margo/Alaska/Katherine/Hazel, a girl who is unattainable. Margo/Alaska/Katherine is unpredictable and full of wit, perk and bubbling charm; she fades oasis-style the closer and closer you try to get. In addition, she feels too much and is never really seen for who she is (but rather, for who everyone wants her to be).
3. The Colonel/Ben/Hassan are the fun-loving, life-living side characters included to provide the much needed humour factor in all of Green’s books. Isaac also is admittedly different, but still provides the funny side-kick factor in TFIOS.
So he uses the same moulds for his characters – if you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. But I am not yet bored by the recurring characters;I don’t know if and when I’ll be (though there is a chance I’ll be..bored..if he continues so). I hope that TFIOS is the starting point to break the character similarity. Having said this, I am in love with the characters that Green creates with all the spunk, charm, wit and quirkiness associated with them. Green knows these people; they have lived in his head and he has lit them from inside with some realism and dimension.

This book is yet another coming of age story as other John Green’s books are, dealing with the relationship between given identities and chosen identities. The notion that we are different versions of ourselves with different people really comes under scrutiny within the narrative. How well do we really know someone when we only see a single side of them. In the same context how well do we know ourselves, when we are different with different people. Also, when we see someone, even a single side of them, we have a built-in theory of how that person is (read – should be) and fantasize about them being the way you see them. The final product is the way you idealize them (which is not real – just fictitious) and not seeing what they actually are – flawed yet perfect, beautiful. Similarly, the concept could be applied to oneself, regarding how we project ourselves to someone – exposing the raw reality or the purported idealness that we think is the correct identity to go with. The theory of Paper towns that Green has used as a metaphor, resonates with this thought.

There are a complex set of psychological theories beautifully entwined in the plot. Like the use of Walter Whitman’s poem “Leaves of Grass” within the plot adds another layer to the story. The analysis of the poem parallels the analysis of people within the plot. Also, the use of mirroring concept in psychology, where a person can know himself better by soliciting feedbacks from other people who he interacts with. John Green indirectly used Margo Roth Spiegelman (Spiegelman = mirror maker in German) for Quentin Jacobsen(Q) to understand love and life and to know himself better as a person. Not by giving him direct feedbacks but by making him experience the things that he would not have dared doing. Who would have dared driving your parents’ car in the middle of the night, pushing it with your friend few meters away from the house so as not to awake them with the sound of the engine, then going to the houses of the people who wronged your friend just to avenge? Not Q! But Q evolves tremendously throughout the book. At the start he has always been on the periphery of his own life. Through his search for Margo, he discovers who he really is. I think that is why finding Margo became a compulsion for him, as he was also finding himself.

What makes this novel engaging is the prose; it is downright sincere and true to its voice: youngish, quirky, innocent yet full of life lessons. I adored John Green’s writing style, the use of metaphors & similes were fantastic. Green lets you enjoy his story and life realizations just naturally follow. There is something about his humour, too that just sits well with me. I did laugh out loud a few times in this book, too. It is also true that his dialogues can be a bit pretentious, seeing how his characters have a smart comeback or a quote ready for every situation, which makes them just a tad unrealistic at times. It is, however, also true that I would much rather read about smart and witty characters, than boring and average ones.

But this is where I didn’t like it: I didn’t know enough about Margo Roth Spiegelman to care about her one way or the other. I wasn’t really invested in her fate because I developed no emotional attachments whatsoever. I didn’t really understand why she was the way she was, whether there really was an estrangement with her parents and how? As much as I understood Quentin’s obsession with her on an intellectual level, I didn’t feel it with him, and I absolutely needed to feel it with him in order to accompany him on his journey. I felt like an observer, and I wanted very much to be a participant. Alas…

Paper Towns gets you to think about the idea of a person and the actual being of a person. Because, of course, it is rather unfair to be thought of as (just) a mere idea. And that we all need to clear our blind spots regarding other people and ourselves. I keep wondering where all these books were when I was a teenager….Anyhow, I may not have liked this book better than John Green’s other books, but I, of course, enjoyed it despite the few things mentioned above. Those things did not lessen my adoration for John Green’s books, and I’ll be pre-ordering whatever he is working on right now. A 3.5 out of 5 from me.


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