"Paper Towns" by John Green | Book Review

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I've always been a strong believer that a good book is good regardless of its genre, and that it appeals to any age group. I have found that to be particularly true with YA novels: think about Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games, or The Fault in Our Stars—all of those appeal to a wide audience, despite being written for young adults. They are masterfully written, carry important messages, encourage questions, and challenge their readers' world views. Why am I bringing this up? Because after a great experience reading The Fault in Our Stars (you can check out my review here), I couldn't wait to be challenged by another highly-praised John Green book.

Paper Towns is about Quentin Jackobsen, better known as Q, who has seen Margo Roth Spiegelman as the perfect unattainable girl ever since they were children. To him, she is an enigma and a promise of an exciting adventure. One night, at the end of their senior year of high school, Margo climbs through his window and challenges him to join her on a night of revenge. Of course, Q accepts this quest, and after a crazy night out with Margo he feels like they can finally be friends. The problem arrises the next day, when he comes to school and finds out that she has disappeared. Paper Towns is a book dedicated to Q's search for Margo, both in a literal and personal sense, as he starts realizing she may not be the person he thought she was.

The story is told from Q's perspective, and that means there is a lot of teenage boy drama and nonsense that go along with it. This may be a realistic depiction of how teenage boys are (I wouldn't know, I've never been one), but wow, this was annoying. I thought I may hurt myself with all of the eye rolling that kept happening—I just didn't care, I couldn't relate to it. At the same time, I had to appreciate the writing: John Green has a great writing style that I really enjoy, but I almost felt like it was being wasted on these ridiculous boys. Of course, if his goal WAS to show how ridiculous these boys with their #FirstWorldProblems were, then I applaud him for succeeding. I really couldn't stand Margo either—every single character in this book was completely self-absorbed. Speaking of which, I nearly bursted out laughing when Q lashed out at Ben for being self-absorbed—it was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. 

Despite the absurd teenage drama, I still found the plot engaging at points. I particularly enjoyed the mystery solving parts—the actual search for Margo. There even were a couple of moments that were surprisingly tense. It was almost as if Paper Towns was a fluffier, teen-apropriate version of Gone Girl. Obviously, they are very different novels, and I'm in no way suggesting that one author borrowed another author's idea, but there are some similarities. To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to go into exactly what those are. I will say that Paper Towns has a very important message for the YA audience, which has to do with seeing people for who they really are. Very often it's easy for people to idolize someone they don't know very well, to fill the artificial air of mystery with positive qualities, to let the imagination run wild and fall in love with an idea of a person, rather than the reality. Here is a quote from the book that's a perfect example:

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.
— John Green


The main message of this book was its redeeming quality for me. It's a simple one, something we all learn sooner or later, but it's a trap most of us fall into during our teenage years. I think I would have enjoyed Paper Towns more if I read it about 10 years ago. This brings me back to my original point: thought this is a good book, it's not one that translates well beyond the age group it's intended for. I definitely felt as if I was too old to enjoy this. My experience with Paper Towns is also the reason I am not likely to read another John Green book: I originally was planning to read Looking for Alaska after this, but after reading the premise and looking through the first few pages, I realized it seemed very similar. Maybe one of his future books will grab my attention?

All this being said, I think fans of John Green's writing would enjoy this book a lot. Clearly it has been doing well, as it has a lot of rave reviews. I just don't think this is something an audience that doesn't read YA would care for.

Have you read Paper Towns? What's your favorite book by John Green?