Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green
I needed to read a YA bestseller for the Reading Challenge. I literally went through the New York Times list and found Paper Towns which I chose because I remember seeing that it was turned into a movie recently and I recognized the author from The Fault in Our Stars. As I read, I felt like this the book warranted a review so here goes nothing.
I have to start with a synopsis so you can really understand the context of the book and the lesson I think we could all learn from this.
Basically this is the story of Quentin Jacobsen and his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman, who’s entire name is printed just about every time she is mentioned. They were really close when they were younger, they found a dead body together at one point, Q was in love with Margo but they grew apart over the years. Flash forward to high school. Q is a nerd to say the least and Margo is Miss Popular. It seems, at least from Quentin’s POV, that the school revolves around Margo Roth Spiegelman and her friends. That is until Margo finds out her boyfriend is cheating with her BFF. She plans a night of revenge and recruits Q to come along. They have a blast getting back at all the people who helped keep the cheating secret and end the night by breaking into Sea World in the wee hours of the morning. (Forming an opinion about MRS yet?) Q is head over heels in love again and hopes their relationship and somehow his life is forever changed by their secret but then Margo Roth Spiegelman disappears. Her parents reveal this is something she does often and since she is legally an adult, there’s nothing than can do to drag her back this time. They say that Margo often leaves unsolvable clues as to her whereabouts. Q finds a clue clearly meant just for him and spent the last month of high school on a wild goose chase looking for Margo Roth Spiegelman (tired of her full name yet?) fearing she went off to commit suicide in a paper town. Well turns out what he thought paper towns were and what Margo knew them to be were two different things. It isn’t until the morning of graduation that he finally finds the clue he needs, revealing that Margo has run off to a paper town in New York. He ditches graduation with his best friends and makes this insane, nearly fatal, 20+ hour drive from Orlando to NY to find her. Half expecting to find her dead and half hoping they get there in time to see her still alive, they arrive in middle-of-nowhere NY only to be told by a very dirty and disheveled Margo Roth Spiegelman that she didn’t in fact want to be found and left because she had to (insert eye roll emoji here). She explains her shenanigans, something finally clicks for Q, and he realizes why she “needs” to do this. They decide she can’t return to Orlando with the crew and finally express their mutual love for each other…THE END.
Now once you get past the cliches of this watered down version of this Beauty & the Beast, Romeo & Juliet crossover (and for me the feeling to strangle Margo Roth Spiegelman) this is actually a really great book. Right up until the end that is.
One of the clues Margo leaves Q is a Walt Whitman poem called Leaves of Grass. In the poem, the speaker contemplates life and death and what our interactions with others can mean. In attempting to analyze the poem (which I now really need to read) and find the clue from Margo, to learn about her and what the poem meant to her, Q becomes very introspective and learns a lot about himself. He learns that we can never really truly know a person. We create this image of them for ourselves based on what we think we see but it may not be who they really are. It is not until they open up their windows and show us inside that we begin to learn who they really are. Q’s best friend Ben gave a perfect example of dating his new girlfriend who happened to be one of Margo’s ex-best friends. He explains how liking her and admiring her from afar was completely different from actually dating her. He used to think she was this super hot & unattainable girl who was perfect beyond his wildest dreams but come to find out she’s really kind of annoying, whiny and has a weird relationship with food. Now he has to learn to like her for who she really is rather than who he thought she was.
This really resonated with me. So many times in my life I recall being disappointed by people because I thought they were one thing and turned out to be another. High School Kiera lost some friends that way, not being mature enough to learn to love them for who they really were. College Kiera made similar mistakes too but Twentysomething Kiera is really working on just taking people for whoever they may be and withholding judgment until they open a window and let me in to see the real them. It’s a good lesson and practice for everyone to try especially as we learn and grow in relationships.
Now despite that, and probably to the author’s point, I was extremely disappointed in the ending of this book because we find out, along with Q & company, that Margo is not in fact this profound and elaborate person who intended to teach any lessons with her vague clues. Margo Roth Spiegelman is a petulant and self-centered girl who ran away because she “couldn’t take it anymore”. This is right around the time I wanted to just knock some sense into the girl. Like shake her around or something for being so selfish. Somehow Q comes to understand it, I guess from spending so much time trying to get inside her head, but I was just mad. So mad I wanted to throw the book but then I remembered it was an ebook and my tablet wouldn’t bounce back from that lol.
Upon further reflection, I decided that John Green intended us to feel that way to drive the point home. We saw Margo Roth Spiegelman as Quentin saw her. This mysterious, oh-so-great love of his life who really might be more troubled than anyone knew. But as that facade cracks, and we realize that Q and her friends really don’t know that much about her, we still hold on to the pieces as Q does and hope to somehow fit the new information into the old mold. We do that to people every day. We see them as “paper people”, two dimensional, not super real to us. It is the intimate connections that we make with one another that take people from 2D to 3D. If we avoid trying to force them flat again, we create this connections to people and the world that are really beautiful.
I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did but I’m so glad I read it. I wonder if the movie was any good…I’m banking on no lol. I don’t see this complexity being caught on film. (Update: I was right, the film was garbage)
Overall 3.5/5 stars. I thought it was a 4/5 but I have to knock off that .5 for the horrible ending. Margo is just gonna run forever? She got into University of Florida, a bitter rival of my alma mater to be clear, but still that silly girl! It ain’t so easy to get into UF these days, just ask the rejects at FSU (I had to,I couldn’t resist throwing shade! GO CANES!) and she just gives it up! NOPE, I cannot condone that. She needs college to give her a good wake up call.
If you’ve read this book, agree with this lesson, wanna discuss some more let me know! Contact me on Twitter @cocktailswithk, on Instagram @cocktailswithkiera or here in the comments below!