Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Paper Towns review

Paper Towns
John Green
October 16th 2008

Two-time Printz Medalist John Green’s New York Times bestseller, now in paperback!

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.

This is going to be less of a review and more of a discussion of sorts because, let's face it, at this point in time you don't really need me to encourage you to read a John Green book unless you've been living under a rock, but also because I'm very much in two minds about it and I would like to know how other people felt about it, as well. On the one hand, I thought that it was very well structured and well realised, and I really agreed with a lot of what it had to say, but on the other hand there were times at which I felt bored and that I thought it was all coming across as being almost shallow and I don't really know why because John Green is one of my favourite authors. We should probably start at the beginning.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book: The Strings. I thought that it was a great way to start off, and it was full of Margo Roth Spiegelman. Margo made this book for me, completely, which was weird because I guess I don't usually go for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (though maybe it's not that I hate the MPDG themselves, just the way in which they are represented, which this book definitely explored and I really liked that because character depth). I just thought that Margo was great at the start of this book and great at the end and I loved seeing her as the MPDG and seeing her as a human person like she deserved to be seen as. The whole theme of it being bad for a person to 'imagine a person as more than a person' was really important to me just because I think that it's a really important thing for people to know. It can be downright dehumanising to think of person as being, well, more, and it's really bad to put all that pressure on someone and all of those expectations and then to be pissed at them when they turn out to be just a normal person. It's just... UGH. It's not good, okay. That's the point I'm trying to get across.

That being said, I think I loved Margo because she did just seem like more in every way, even toward the end when Quentin learns to get a bit of perspective and has read Leaves of Grass so many freaking times that he may as well be Walt Whitman. Maybe one of my problems with Paper Towns was this, because it felt like even when she wasn't in the book, she still overshadowed everyone else, and they felt almost two-dimensional. But I got this with Looking For Alaska when I think back on it - not because of Alaska, but just because the secondary characters in John Green's books just feel like they are nothing beyond their character archetypes. I don't know if I'm saying this the right way, but you see what I'm getting at, right? Maybe I'm just being too harsh here because it's John Green and he's become, like, the top dog of YA and basically everyone ever has read his books, but I don't know. They just fell flat for me. 

The second part of the book (and yes, I know I've already lost whatever semblance of structure this review might've had, but whatever.) was by far my least favourite. Maybe it was because of how slowly I read it, but it felt a bit boring to me. And I know that this was where we started getting to see who the real Margo was as opposed to the MPDG we met at the beginning, but a lot of it just felt like Quentin being annoying. Again, this may just be me being too harsh, but I have this problem with John Green's male narrative characters. I feel like TFiOS has definitely been Green's best book by far (to date). But yeah, Quentin just got on my nerves. And it's not that I have a problem with not liking main characters, because I have a certain appreciation for characters that I don't like, just like I have an appreciation for say Classics that I don't like (Of Mice and Men, looking at you.) It wasn't even that I didn't like him, though. I just wanted to shake him and tell him to get his head out of his constantly philosophizing ass. It felt like he was making everything about himself, even the stuff about Margo, and it just really frustrated me. But I guess he was flawed and a teenager and all those things, so I'll stop being hard on him. 

The road trip was completely and absolutely my favourite part of the book. It was the point that I thought the book had completely turned itself around for me and that I'd end it in tears and wanting to clap and hug it and all that (that didn't happen, but I'll get to the ending in a minute - I did warn you this would be a long one.) The road trip was the first time that I felt the rest of the characters start to come alive a bit, and I just thought that it was funny and insightful and struck the right balance between too much and not enough which I didn't think had really happened in the book until that point. Maybe that's just because I love road trips, though... 

I've already touched on how I felt about Margo by the end (which overall was a yay because I love Margo), but on the whole I felt a bit let down by the ending. Sure, it was nice, I guess, but it felt unjustified. It's quite difficult to write about without spoiling the whole thing, so I'm going to go the spoilers ahoy route so I can get it all out: We knew the whole time that Quentin had a thing for Margo, and had been all obsessed with his idea of Margo and had been crushing on her ever since he was nine and they found that dead guy, but then suddenly it turns out that Margo has a thing for Q, too? I don't know. I guess on reflection it was sort of nice that they have a bit of a thing, but it just felt wrong to me. It seemed a bit like one of those things where the kind of weird scrawny guy ends up getting the attention of the girl he's liked this whole time, and I still feel like they're both disillusioned about each other, and I don't know. I just wasn't too keen on it, is all. I'm sure other people thought it was the perfect ending and I hope you're one of those people because I'm interested to know why, and maybe that will help me realise why I didn't like it, or even help me to like it a bit! (Spoliers over).

Okay, so, there we go. Paper Towns. Why I kind of love/hated it. I think the root cause of this may have (ironically) to do with the theme of the book - building someone/something up to be so much greater in your imagiation that it's kind of let down when you actually get to it. But again, please remember that this is not a review. I absolutely do not want to out anyone off of reading this book, because I appreciate the book a lot. I really liked a lot of it. I really think that it deserves to be read by lots and lots of people. And maybe I'll read it again one day in the future with a brand new perspective and adore it, but right at this moment, it felt a bit off key and not the book for the person who I am at this moment in time. I'd like to know what you thought, though?


  1. Good in depth review. I've actually never read John Green LOL. And I routinely read YA. What do you mean by manic pixie dream girl? Like the dude is obsessive or she's a fairy?

  2. Great, great review. You touched on a lot of the problems we had with the book too. John Green has said that he wrote the book sort of as a response to LOOKING FOR ALASKA, because Alaska was an MPDG and he never really debunked that in the story. So PAPER TOWNS was his dialogue with himself, which is kinda cool. But as you said, it wasn't *totally* successful as such.

    As to how we actually *feel* about PAPER TOWNS... we're split 4 ways. 1 hasn't read it. 1 DNF-ed it. 1 finished it but only liked it. 1 really, really liked it. So there you have it: mixed feelings.

    We all agree, however, that TFIOS is his best to date. (That said, there are some flat side characters there, too. Namely, the parents.)

    JG is great, both as an author and a personality, but he's not perfect. And that's totally fine. (He's like YA's MPDG, hahahaha!) We see his flaws, and we'll still love him and read him anyway.

  3. manic pixie dream girls are my FAVE. idk why. also, margo is my FAVE. i see what you mean about quentin and his philosophizing but i only remember it vaguely (time for a reread, i think). the road trip made that book for me. paper towns was the first john green book i read and yeah the road trip was really great lol :) on the spoiler-y part, yes, i agree. i like really happy/soppy endings but i felt like it was wrong and too kinda, getting rid of all the loose ends? something like that. great review/not-review!

  4. I loved this - even better than Looking For Alaska or TFIOS for me. (And I'm in the camp who thought it WAS a perfect ending.) That said, I can see why you didn't like parts of it, and I thought it was a really good review/not-review.

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