Paper Towns

by John Green
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

On the scale of John Green novels that I have read to date, this one ranks just below The Fault in Our Stars and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but well above An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska. I thought Green had a lot of insightful things to say about idealizing someone versus getting to know them up close, in almost all the relationships within the book, both romantic and platonic. I also really liked Quentin as a narrator much better than I liked the main character of Looking for Alaska, though they sort of filled the same role of average-guy-looking-for-amazing-girl. I think I identified more with Quentin, mostly because the boarding school scene in Alaska is very much not my cuppa, which made boarding school adventures extra foreign-seeming and unrelatable.

I have docked Paper Towns a half star for two reasons. One is that Green used the word “retarded” a couple of times in a negative way that was already under fire in progressive circles by 2008, the book’s original copyright date. I understand he has since denounced his use of it, but I’m surprised that he hadn’t known better by then as I consider him on the more progressive side of things in general. More importantly, for my rating’s purposes, the result was that it detracted from the reading for me.

The other reason for docking it half a star is the ending. Quentin and Margo have known each other almost all their lives and he has always felt that she is an amazing person who absolutely marches to her own drummer. I’ve known these types of people, Margos to my Quentin, and never has it resolved in the way their relationship resolves in the end, so you could say I found it unrealistic. Also, Margo ends up being understood, both by herself and by Quentin, as a paper girl: one with only two dimensions, even though the whole point of the book is that really no one is a paper person, we are all three-dimensional and whole.

In general, though, very solid and original story, with much to ponder on and much learning (regarding Walt Whitman and the concept of paper towns). Can’t wait to see the movie – again, the narration reminds me a bit of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl so I’m curious how they made this one into a movie without losing some of the really profound bits, but this is much more of an adventure story than Me and Earl and feels more like a movie.

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