Sunday, 30 August 2015

Paper Towns by John Green **Review**

Paper Towns
Series: None
Pages: 305
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release date: 3rd May 2010
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

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Goodreads synopsis:
Who is the real Margo?

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew...

My experience of reading Paper Towns was, rather poetically, quite similar to the main character, Quentin's, experience of Margo Roth Spiegelman; my initial image of the book, my expectation of what it was and what it would be like at the beginning, did not match what it turned out to be. But much like Margo, this was not too much of a disappointment; it just took a bit of adjustment.

The first 90 pages or so of Paper Towns were fantastic. After a brief prologue that takes place in Quentin and Margo's childhood, we zoom forward to their final few weeks of High School, where the two have become distanced. But Quentin still admires from afar, so when Margo turns up at his bedroom window in the middle of the night and proposes an adventure in which they will complete 13 tasks, it doesn't take much coercion for Margo to convince Quentin to go with her.
This night of adventure is truly something special. There are acts of revenge that I'm sure many of us (myself included) would have loved to exact on our bullies and those who had wronged us. I also felt like I was really getting to know both Margo and Quentin, and although it turns out that we don't really know Margo as well as we thought we did, it was still fun to see this side of her before she mysteriously and dramatically disappears.

I think the first part of the book – Quentin and Margo's night adventure – is my favourite part of the book. It was fun and fast-paced and satisfying (who wouldn't find removing a bully's eyebrow while they're asleep satisfying?). For me, the rest of the book didn't quite keep pace with this first part. I still enjoyed it, but for different reasons.

After Margo disappears, Quentin becomes obsessed with finding her. His adoration of the girl next door has been totally reignited by their adventure and he is sure that she is leaving clues behind for him so that he can come and find her. The obscurity of these clues left me totally baffled ... I found myself thinking, at multiple points in the story, that I would never in a million years have picked up on any of the clues the characters did. Maybe they're just smarter than me, I don't know, but it seemed to me that the dots were too faint to possibly connect.
But I suppose it was interesting to see how these obscure dots lined up, and I really enjoyed going with Quentin to the hidden pseudovisions (or 'paper towns' ... I loved this connection to the title). I also feel as thought this book gave me quite a bit of random knowledge ... music knowledge, facts about the US, little tidbits of information about Whitman (the poet who makes up one of the larger clues). These tiny pieces of information are woven into the story brilliantly. It's left me wishing that I could search for things on Omnictionary* as well! (*This is Quentin's friend Radar's version of Wikipedia, which he obsessively maintains and adds to.)

One of my favourite things about this book is the humour. I found myself laughing out loud so many times! I have even noted down a couple of my favourite moments:
"Dude, I don't want to talk about Lacey's prom shoes. And I'll tell you why: I have this thing that makes me really uninterested in prom shoes. It's called a penis."
'I was about to start screaming at his drunk ass when I realized he couldn't let go of the sword.
     Lacey laughed. "Ben, did you glue yourself to the beer sword?"
     "No," Ben answered. "I superglued. That way no one can steal it from me!"
     "Good thinking," Lacey deadpanned.'
Perhaps you have to read these in context for them to have their full, desired effect, but I thought these were hilarious!

In a close second to the humour, another of Paper Towns' strong points is the character and relationship development. I loved watching Quentin change and adapt in his quest to find Margo. Not only did he change in the way he acted, he also changed the way he thought. It was very much a personal journey for him, as well as a physical one.
Then there are the secondary characters. Quentin's best friends, Ben and Radar, don't really change that much, but his relationship with them does. He learns to understand and appreciate them more, as well as accept them for who they are (particularly Ben). Lacey is a character who comes into the story a little later – she had been one of Margo's friends, and one of those who had an act of revenge brought down upon them. We learn to believe, from Margo's description and behaviour, that Lacey is not a nice character, but as we get to know her, we find that her personality is quite different from the one Margo painted for us. She's flawed, just as every human is, and that is what I think makes her loveable. That and the fact that she really does care about those around her.

There are some really fantastic moments for all of the characters in this story, and all of them add to the bigger picture. I felt as though I really got a good glimpse into these teenagers' lives.

The reason Paper Towns loses a star in my rating is simply because I did find myself wishing that it would speed up a little in places. I don't want to give too much away, so I can't really explain in too much detail when I thought it was a little slow, but it did feel like it came to a halt a little too often (although, I admit with clues that obscure, the characters were bound to get stuck. And I wouldn't have wanted any more clues, or for them to be more obvious). Maybe the story could have been a little shorter, I don't know, but I'm glad I got to the end. And although the ending is miles away from what I had thought it would be, I actually think that it was the only ending it could have had.

As I said at the beginning of this review, Paper Towns was not really what I expected it to be. I thought it would be a coming-of-age with a little mystery and romance thrown in for good measure. What it turned out to be was an exploration of the way we view the world and how we view those around us. It shows us that the image of themselves that our friends project are not always entirely honest, and that it doesn't matter how well you think you know someone, they can always surprise you.
Although this book was not what I expected it to be, I found that it actually has a lot more depth than I initially thought it did, and I am still enjoying picking it apart in my mind (just as Quentin did with the Whitman poetry) and making further sense of it, bit by bit.

I know I'm probably the last person to have read this book, especially with the movie having been released, but if you haven't read it, I strongly advise you to do so! I have a feeling I'll be thinking about Quentin and Margo for a long time to come.


Carole Rae said...

The book was good. I watched the movie and haven't done my review yet for the movie, but I think the movie was a hair better.

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