John Green is no stranger to praise. His previous novels, Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines scored much recognition, and won many awards. The hype surrounding his new novel, Paper Towns, is huge. Everyone knows someone that has read it, or knows someone who wants to read it. So when I picked up the three hundred odd page novel I had super high expectations. That’s the problem with expectations: as soon as you expect something, you’re almost always going to be disappointed. And I was, but not for any reason that I can justify. I think I thought it was going to be breathtakingly mesmerising from the very first word. In all the hysteria, I forgot that a novel needs to lay its foundations and introduce its characters to the reader before any kind of connection or relationship is achieved. Once I remembered all these things, I let my preconceived ideas dissipate and found myself really enjoying everything Paper Towns had to offer.
Paper Towns is narrated through Quentin’s point of view. His neighbour – and long time crush – Margo Roth Speigelman has a thing for running away from home. When she disappears again, everyone is upset, but no one is surprised. Only this time it is different, and Quentin thinks Margo wants him to find her. He uncovers some clues, which he believes she deliberately planted for him, and begins piecing all of them together. While Quentin spends the final months of his senior year looking for Margo, the rest of his friends spend their final months preparing for prom and revelling in the fact that their high school days are finally numbered. Quentin becomes totally consumed with finding Margo and misses out on all kinds of experiences (like graduation) as he follows dead end lead, after dead end lead. He starts to wonder all kinds of crazy things, like whether or not he’ll find her alive, or whether he’ll ever find her at all.
Quentin is an incredibly likeable character. He’s compassionate, dedicated to his cause, and everybody’s best friend. Margo, on the other hand, I found harder to care about. Although she is gone for a lot of the novel, readers learn a lot about her through the clues that Quentin uncovers on his journey. From my vantage point, Margo is conceited, superficial, melodramatic and not worthy of Quentin’s affections at all. I found myself wishing that he’d stop looking for her and just let himself enjoy the last few months of high school with his friends. But if I’m honest with myself, Quentin’s supreme dedication to find her, dead or alive, is one of the characteristics that I admired about him most.
In the end, although none of them really think they’re going to find her, all of Quentin’s friends forfeit their graduation ceremony so they can accompany him on a last ditched effort to follow a lead. They end up in a car headed for New York. It’s during this trip that readers are really exposed to the true strengths of friendships, relationships, love and loss. The road trip to New York is my favorite part of the novel and I found myself re-reading several pages because I was so touched by some of the words and actions of the individual characters. I’m not going to tell you whether they actually find Margo or not, because that would ruin the ending for you all. But I am going to tell you that I think Margo is someone that will always run, will always look for the quickest escape route when anything gets tough. She’s one of those girls that lack the strength of character to look life in the face and deal with its raw and brutal consequences.
This was my first experience reading a John Green novel and I can happily say that it will not be my last. There is a little something for everyone in this novel, with action, drama, romance and real life experiences and emotions spread across its pages for all to absorb. yaReads give you two very big thumbs up, John Green. Two very big thumbs indeed!