I read Paper Towns on my way to (and from) Prague in a quiet German bus. I was only interrupted when the initial announcement came on that you get wifi on the bus and that they hope we enjoy the trip. The weekend in Prague was a success, but I found reading the book hard. Why?
I found that I just didn’t like the characters. Quentin, also known as Q, is the main character we follow through this journey. I guess the main point here is that he isn’t very friendly towards his friends in his single-minded goal. Q’s character felt dry to me. I don’t know why but he was stale.
We come next to the character Margo. She’s an adventurous spirit who leaves her hometown without a trace. Maybe it’s America, maybe it’s me, but I find it unrealistic for a child (although she is legally an adult) to just disappear. Obviously, not everyone will agree with me, and that’s fine.
Lastly, I will join the next two characters Marcus (Radar) and Ben into a paragraph. I thought these two characters were far more interesting than Q. At least Ben is the funny guy, and Radar is the guy whose parents collect black Santas.
To sum it up, I’m glad I read the book, but I think it’s a weaker story than John Green’s other books.
I have to say I'm a bit mixed about Paper Towns. On one hand, I love the many underlying messages in the book. It's about the dangers of becoming fixated on your personal perception of who someone is, rather than who they really are. It's about friendship -- real, fake, old, and new. It's about daring to be someone other than who you always thought you were. And mostly, at least for me, it's about being able to connect with the people and the experiences around you.
All these things are real struggles for teens, as well as adults. Yet, parts of it seemed so far fetched and fantastically fiction. The entire book was this kind of tug-of-war for me. I'm loving it, I'm not loving it -- rinse and repeat.
My struggle started with the idea that our main character, Q, could hold on to this obsession with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, from the time he was 10 until high school graduation. In that time Margo Roth Spiegelman (because she could never just be Margo) ignores Q. Completely - until a week or so before prom when she climbs through his window asking him to drive her around and help her on some wild pranks. Of course he does, because he's been in love with her forever. Then he goes on this crazy scavenger hunt and road trip just to find her. I suppose I struggle with the idea that this type of dedication could stem from a 10-year-old obsession. Yet, on the other hand, I have a 10-year-old daughter and she STILL talks about her best friend who moved away 3 years ago. A friend she only ever saw in school and was only friends with for one year. So that turns me back around and I think it's possible. I do believe people can have an unexplained connection with someone else (even if the connection is not two-sided), and I suppose that it's possible for someone so young to experience it. Maybe if he would have at least made her work for it when she finally came calling, rather than easily agreeing to go along. Kind of a, "I noticed you ignored me for many years, and I didn't like it one bit."
Then there was my struggle with Q's journey of self-discovery. I like that he found a bit of himself as he searched for Margo. I liked that he realized he never really knew who Margo was. And yet, despite that, he often still picked searching for her over things that defined who he was for so long. I get that the point was probably that those things did not define him as a person, but many of the things he did felt like a huge leap in character. Maybe it would have been more believable if he had felt remorse or fear or guilt or something after the adrenaline wore off and he realized what he had actually done.
The story is structured in three parts. The first part flowed well for me and I enjoyed it. I felt the second part dragged in several places - but on the flip I can appreciate that. It's when Q starts to really discover himself. Finally, I really enjoyed the third part. Several elements made me laugh out loud.
Last but not least, Margo Roth Spiegelman. I did not like her. I understand what she represented in the novel and why she had to be in there, but I don't like how she never had any consequences for her actions. She was selfish in every possible way. While there are real people like that in this world, and many of them never do have consequences in this life, I just didn't like seeing it in a book for teens. I fear some might read her part of the story as if you don't like your life, just leave and all will be well. That can be very dangerous.
I had wanted to read this book since I heard that the writer had gotten tired of the "manic pixie dream girl" trope and wanted to destroy it. I don't remember where I had originally seen it, but I did find this article that supports that thought, spoilers are in the article though.
I loved it. I love the way he does it, which is really hard not to spoil, but I'll leave it to you find. He just humanizes the MPDG. By the way, if you are unfamiliar and don't want to spoil the book with the other link, try this one out, it's the Wikipedia page for the term.
All the friends were brilliantly written as were each set of parents. Of course, the protagonists parents were the best. They reminded me of the parents from Easy A. I wasn't so sure about John Green, I'd seen The Fault in Our Stars and didn't feel the need to induce that much heartache over fictional people again (so I can't even bring myself to read the book, though I'm sure it's even better). You'll notice in the article cited above that Augustus was even supposed to be a manic pixie dream boy (whose manic and dream states get summarily torn down as well, but it isn't the point of that book, so I don't think I spoiled anything there). Anyway, I'll probably read some more of his stuff, particularly when the point of his books, overall, seems to be humanizing those experiences in our lives that have broken us down into tropes and two-dimensional characters.
Loved the book! Gonna watch the movie later this week, I think, too.