Review: ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green

Paper Towns by John GreenHaving read almost all of John Green’s published works, I still had Paper Towns to devour. Like many zealous readers, I’d much rather finish the book before seeing a movie adaptation that Hollywood tells me is going to be just as good. Since the film is going to be released this summer, I figured it was time to get to it.

John Green has perfected the passive main character. In his previous publications, Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, he uses his fish-out-of-water protagonist to serve as the sounding board/voice of reason/”normal” person for the sparkling, fresh and slightly off-kilter/manic-pixie-dreamgirl with hidden depths. This MC, usually a boy, never initiates the encounter. No, though he thinks about and pines for the girl, he’s too nerdy or shy or insecure to be the initiator. It is always up to the female to serve as a catalyst. It’s the same here in his third book, Paper Towns.

Quentin Jacobsen lives next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman. Friends when they were younger, they’ve grown apart as kids do. She went the popular route, he, not so much. He has always had a crush on her, but there’s also an admiration for her ability to be able to handle anything – she’s strong; unflappable. Then, one night, out of the blue, she knocks on his window and takes him on a mission to right some wrongs. How can he say no?

After a night of mild-to-crazy antics and a lot of deep conversation, Quentin can’t wait to see what happens at school on Monday. But then Margo doesn’t show, and after a few days, when she still has not returned, Quentin decides to put together some clues she’s left and, with his loyal group of friends, go find her. The question is, will he be able to accept what he finds?

Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman, really? And is it fair to put someone on a pedestal or in a box and never let them be an actual real, changing human? What if we discover that maybe there’s more to them than that? And does every quiet person need to go big at least once? What does it mean to live your life to the fullest?

John Green has written some of the most interesting and entertaining secondary characters, and those in Paper Towns are no exception. Some authors seem to drown their primaries with all the adjectives while those in the background (or sideground) get a sprinkle – an outline, really, so you know their “type” and how they will react in situations encountered by the mains. Not only is this boring, it removes several layers of “real” that gives so much depth to stories. Naturally, you should know more about the protagonist, and you certainly shouldn’t have to wade through paragraphs and pages and chapters of detail that isn’t either crucial to the story or is going way overboard, but having that extra flavor adds a genuineness, a credibility, even, that makes the story solid and authentic.

After watching many episodes on Mental Floss, Mr. Green’s YouTube presence, maybe, like me, you get the idea that JG is writing about himself. He’s an outgoing, witty, affable guy who seems, as an adult at least, to be able to put his finger on the pulse of the American Teenager (both Nerd and Not-Nerd models). But I have gotten in the habit of picturing him as his main characters in his books (which isn’t hard, considering his boyish looks). Do you?

I know many people consider this to be their favorite of all of his writings, including 2012’s mega-hit The Fault in Our Stars. I actually had to mull things over for a bit to know how I felt. While I liked the story, I wasn’t crazy about it. Maybe if I hadn’t just read An Abundance of Katherines recently, it would have resonated with me more. Though his writing is always tops, his character development the best and plots unique, I felt like I’d seen this one before. Twice. I absolutely get why teens (especially) will love this story, but it wasn’t my fav. Don’t hate me.

Paper Towns by John Green was published September 22, 2009 by Speak. Ink and Page purchased this ebook from Amazon.

Rating: 3.5

Genre: Young Adult Fiction Contemporary
Ages: 13 and up
FYI: Sexual situations, underage drinking, drugs, vandalism

3 thoughts on “Review: ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green”

  1. I’ve noticed this thing where it’s hard to critique John Green because of the love for him. I like all his books. This one is my least favorite though. It felt clunky and the pacing was off. In fact, I have found that reading JG’s books there is a progression of sorts in his skills. Papertowns, Alaska, Katherine’s, WGwg (my favorite) and finally FioS, which ironically is my second to least favorite because it’s almost executed so flawlessly that it felt like he’d moved to the right of selling out and into the formula world of Best Seller.

    But that’s just me.

    1. Right. It’s not like this book was horrible or so different from his “normal” stuff; it was completely his “normal” stuff. I am sure if I had read this before Alaska or Katherines I would have liked it more. By the time I read this one, it seemed too similar to what I’d already read. As I told someone else, I think that Will Grayson and TFIOS are enough different that they aren’t caught up in the orbit of the first 3 books.

      Paper Towns is thought provoking, for sure, but I was ready to move on.

      Thanks for commenting!

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