Paper Towns is another phenomenal book by John Green–possibly my favorite. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s another author whose entire body of work keeps me absolutely enthralled. Perhaps not even Juliet Marillier (my favorite), since her most recent two works did not impress me overmuch.
Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin Jacobson, a high school senior who has loved the same girl since he was ten years old. Margo, his next-door neighbor and the object of his worship, is one of the most popular girls in school, but has a rebellious streak. Her popularity is attributed to her fascination-factor. Growing up, she disappeared multiple times, always to return with wild stories of grand adventures. Quentin always watches from the sidelines, idolizing a girl who (he comes to realize by the end of the novel) he thinks he knows but truly doesn’t understand in the least.
One night a month before graduation, Margo sneaks into Q’s window for the first time in years, and takes him on an all-night mission of revenge against anyone she believes has done her wrong. It is this night of renewed friendship, and the mystery that follows, which leads to Quentin’s realization that the Margo he has loved for the past 8 years is not the real Margo at all.
John Green is a master of making his readers question everything that’s happening, and his plots are never predictable. In most novels I usually have a guess about where the plot is going, even in novels that are supposed to surprise me, but John Green always finds away to shock me. In Paper Towns, I had a new theory about the solution to the puzzle of Margo just about every other chapter, all of which were wrong. It’s this element of surprise and originality that makes Green’s work such a pleasure to read.
Green also never fails to create characters that engage the reader on a level mostly unknown in today’s selection of YA fiction. Quentin and his group of friends are a trio of misfits trying to find a place in their adolescent society, and facing the questions of the future that all high school seniors experience. They are also hilarious, as Green’s characters usually are, and I found myself laughing out loud in public and then attempting to explain myself to the people around me. Part of me is actually grateful to authors who can cause this. If it’s in the name of books, I enjoy embarrassing myself. Margo is an enigma; she’s a beautiful girl with secrets she’s buried deep for most of her adolescent life. Quentin’s fascination with her is understandable, for the reader cannot help but be drawn to her as well. She’s intelligent, sharp-tongued, rebellious, and vengeful–a character the reader cannot help but enjoy, despite her selfishness.
I’ll only say one more thing about the novel, from the standpoint of someone who loves literature and believes in its power. One of the things I loved about Paper Towns is Green’s heavy use of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Margo leaves clues for Quentin in her copy of Whitman’s book, and Quentin spends the entire novel contemplating their meaning. In the course of the few hundred pages that comprise the novel, he considers several different interpretations of Whitman’s words and what significance they may have to his search for the real Margo. Though I haven’t read Leaves of Grass, I’m encouraged to do so, and I feel that some students reading this novel may also be compelled to seek out the poem. Any author that moves kids to read classics (and moves me to read poetry) is an author I can’t help but admire.