Paper Towns by John Green

September 19, 2008 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

John Green again creates characters that will stay with you long after you put down his latest book, Paper Towns. What is telling to me, however, is that while I remember the characters a few days after finishing the book, I can’t recall just how I left them at the end. That realization is a way of confirming what I felt as I passed the halfway mark of the book and thought, uh-oh – he’s losing me here. Sometimes you can get tired of being in a maze and just want out. And, in a way, that is the point of the book — wanting out.

Paper Towns is the story of teenage neighbors who have known each other all their lives but whose interests and personalities diverged as they neared adolescence. Though Quentin has longed for and admired Margo from afar, he is the quintessential good student headed for Duke and inhabits a high school niche very different from his daring but troubled neighbor Margo. So it is with some surprise and apprehension that Q agrees to join Margo when she sneaks in his bedroom window and invites him on an unforgettable night of prank-filled vengence. He has never felt closer to Margo than during this exhilarating night. Unfortunately, the next day, Margo disappears and everyone thinks she has run away. Again.

Infatuated with Margo, Q is determined to find her, using clues he thinks she has left behind. He enlists his oddball group of geeky friends to help him. It is questionable that Margo wants to be found at all; more likely she simply wants to disappear from her old town and start life anew somewhere else. Q and his friends become obsessed with finding her and their journey of discovery is the result of an overworked and, for me, unlikely and exasperating) series of events.

Sometimes Green can be too clever for his own plot, and a couple of twists lost me a few times along the way toward finding Margo. (Uh-Oh… spoiler alert! the next sentence is……fateful!) By the time she is discovered, I hardly cared about her, especially when it had become clear she hadn’t committed suicide (the ghost of Looking for Alaska effect – knowing Green can do that to one of his characters, you prepare yourself for the worst).

Ultimately, Margo comes across as self-absorbed and cruel in ways that, while not unlikely for some teenagers, lacked any kind of compelling intrigue and left me feeling she wasn’t worth the effort Quentin put into finding her or that I put into reading about her. Still, it IS John Green, whose wit, intelligence and style make Paper Towns an enjoyable and thoughtful read.  (Review by John Sexton)

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