Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review - Paper Towns

Photo credit: John Green's website

Last week, I read John Green's PAPER TOWNS. As a big fan of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, I was excited to read another book of his, though the books are pretty different from each other. PAPER TOWNS is the story of high school senior Quentin Jacobsen, or Q, as his friends call him. One night as Q is falling asleep, the girl-next-door, Margo Roth Spiegelman, shows up at his window asking if he wants to help her get revenge on some of their classmates. This takes us through part one of the book: the story of Margo's revenge plan, which is wild and meticulously planned. Throughout this section, we get a very clear idea of who both Margo and Q are.

Characterization is a huge component of this book, maybe even more than in TFIOS. At its core, PAPER TOWNS is a study of the individual. It asks the question, "How well do we really know the people around us? And can we ever really know them at all?" Green spends part one setting up an identity for both Margo--the carefree, fun-loving girl--and Q--the quieter, more sensible one. And then he spends part two shattering those images.

Part two begins right where part one ended: the day after Margo's vengeance mission. Q has to deal with the fallout from that long night. He also learns that Margo has run away, something she does often enough that no one is particularly concerned at first except Q. And then it becomes the story of Q trying to find Margo. Sometimes his friends help, sometimes he's alone, but he spends the entire section trying to trace a series of clues to narrow down her location.

This is where the theme shifts, and we're introduced to the questions about how well we know the people around us. Q struggles with that throughout the section, wondering he really knew Margo, or if he only knew the version of her that she projected, the version that others thrust onto her. And through his journey, both he--and we--learn that she's not necessarily the person we thought she was. And neither is Q.

I don't want to give too much away about the ending, so I'll say that if part three has a theme, it's probably the same as the book's overall one: we're all connected. It's a long road for Q to get to that conclusion, but I think that's where he winds up.

I wasn't entirely certain of my reaction when I finished reading the book. John Green is a fantastic author, and I appreciated the lyrical twists and turns of his sentences maybe more than I appreciated the plot. While I liked the characters well enough, there weren't any that I was overly fond of. And I felt that sometimes the book got bogged down in its own rhetoric. The themes weren't subtle; they were hammered in with a sledgehammer. But the story was engaging, and I found myself power-reading through it because I was so curious to find out how it ended. Overall, I'd give it a 3 1/2 out of 5.

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