I read ‘Paper Towns’ as part of my annual reading challenge. We have posted a synopsis of what this challenge entails but in case you missed it this challenge is between the two of us and our three sisters. We each recommended five books to each other that A) we know that person would not normally read or B) books that we have recommended to them before and they have never got around to reading it.
‘Paper Towns’ is the 3rd novel by infamous YA author John Green. Green has a mass fanbase reaching readers of all ages and nationalities. The movie adaptation also titled Paper Towns was released last year. I was recommended this novel by Sam who is a huge fan of Green’s work. When recommended ‘Paper Towns’ I had only read Green’s most famous work of fiction ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ which I unfortunately did not enjoy. However I never let one bad experience with a book stop me from reading more books by the same author. This, in part, is due to the fact that I like to make my own opinions on an author and believe I cannot do so, at least not justifiably, by reading only one work of fiction.
I finished reading ‘Paper Towns’ today and although I also did not enjoy this novel I mean no offence and am in no way trying to say it has no merit, I am just going to go into more detail about the issues I had with various elements such as character building and writing style. As always I will also discuss the aspects of the novel I really enjoyed.
Firstly, I believe this novel has great potential. From the beginning I interpreted the elusive character Margo Roth Spiegelman as a sufferer of mental illness. This reading instantaneously improves the novel and I wish the theme of mental illness was a more integral part of the plot. Another aspect of the novel I believed had potential was Q’s fascination with Margo. His naïve view of Margo can be read as an almost Gatsby-level infatuation where he bases his life around her for no other reason than her beauty. However I found the novel difficult to read because some of the high school scenes and dialogue seemed incredibly forced. Even Green’s attempt at humour was lost on me for example the following scene:
“I’ll ask Angela if she knows anybody” Radar said “Although getting you a date to prom will be harder than turning lead into gold”
“Getting you a date to prom is so hard that the hypothetical idea itself is actually used to cut diamonds”
“Getting you a date to prom is so hard that the American government believes the problem cannot be solved with diplomacy, but will instead require force”
The scene where Margo shows up in the night and they go on a scavenger hunt style revenge heist reminded me of that cheesy American movie Sleepover from 2004. Actually now that I see who was actually in that movie it is probably better, considering one of its stars won best actress at the Oscars this year. Obviously when I say better, I simply mean better in the sense that it does not take itself seriously. The movie Sleepover, unlike ‘Paper Towns’ and its big budget adaptation, was marketed as a fun, silly teen movie of little substance. This makes me question why there are thousands of Green fans who find his novels extremely sentimental and meaningful.
Despite my disbelief at how cheesy the dialogue was I was even more frustrated when Q narrated his thoughts and then told readers that he did not tell Margo because “that seemed to cheesy to say.” Not only was this uncomfortable to read but again suggested to me that he does not actually care for Margo due to the fact she, in the previous page, was reaching out to him. Margo says of breaking into SeaWorld that “Doing stuff never feels as good as you want it to feel” and yet instead of being worried by her statement Q was too busy telling readers that “Margo’s blue blue eyes blinked and she looked impossibly beautiful right then, her jeans wet against her legs, her face shining in the gray light.”
Margo is of course the girl next door, it goes without saying that this plot device is not in itself new. However perhaps Margo is more than your average female lead in the YA genre. She has obvious flaws as does Daisy in Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and similarly these character flaws can be seen by the reader long before the characters in the novel. Although in the classic novel the narrator Nick is intelligent and endearing whereas the narrator in Green’s novel, is unintelligent and shallow. One reason I believe Q to be unintelligent is that his parents are psychologists and yet he cannot identify mental illness in others when the sufferers clearly articulate their symptoms to him.
This brings me to Q’s parents and his relationship with them. Here, at the beginning of part two Green introduces another one of his metaphors. Augustus Water’s metaphor of the cigarette in his mouth that he doesn’t smoke is one of the most annoying things I have ever read and yet again I had trouble with the relevancy and patronising metaphor of Q’s parents. They describe Q’s father’s ridiculous school based dream, in which he has to take a test in a foreign language as a metaphor of adolescence saying “writing in a language– adulthood–you can’t comprehend, using an alphabet–mature social interaction–you can’t recognise.” Q is seventeen years old. I do not know any seventeen year olds who A) think of themselves as an adolescent and B) cannot comprehend ‘adulthood.’
Quentin’s character is also inconsistent: at first he is empathetic and gives Jase his clothes back during the revenge heist with Margo because he pities him for being naked in public. He later blackmails Jase with pictures of him running down the street naked, this is not the actions of a protagonist. I also found Margo’s parents infuriating but this at least was intentional on John Green’s part. When Margo has been missing for a few days they phone the police who are reluctant to help due to the fact Margo is 18. Instead of being worried about their daughter’s well-being they are worried about their own. Telling their neighbours that they are changing the locks and will not be embarrassed by Margo any longer, describing her as the sickness in their family. This is not the first time they have phoned the police over Margo’s disappearance. Until this part of the novel there have been no positive relationships.
Q, however, obviously wants to find her for his own selfish reasons. In fact he even states “maybe untold riches awaited he who found her” yet another example of Green’s juvenile writing style and frustrating characters. The story improved on page 152 when it was revealed that Margo had used the term ‘Paper Towns’ as one of her hidden clues on where to find her. However I was again frustrated when Q claimed on page 156 that he loves Margo. Instalove is something I find very troubling not necessarily in YA fiction but in any novel where the characters are so young. Q’s idea of love is, in my opinion, selfish as well as naïve. After all why is he searching for Margo? Because he wants her to be his girlfriend. What does he know about Margo? that she likes to get revenge and run away? I understand that Margo and Quentin were brought together by their traumatic childhood experience and I admittedly enjoyed this aspect of their relationship. It’s not that I do not think there is a connection between them I just believe calling it ‘love’ is a little far-fetched. Then again the plot as a whole can be considered far-fetched.
When Q goes to pick his drunken friend up he thinks “It all seemed so trivial, so embarrassing. It all seemed like paper kids having their paper fun” Q is now so obsessed that he is incapable of forming his own thoughts and instead uses Margo’s. Perhaps his judgement has changed due to maturity, this may be the reason he grows tired of Ben. Ben who he knows so much more about than Margo, Ben who is always there for him. Although Ben is extremely immature he did not do anything at this moment to deserve Q’s judgement given that he had until this point helped Q in his endeavour to find Margo. The quotation makes me think of how the novel’s potential was wasted by Green’s writing style and attempts at metaphors. It is said later in the novel that “We don’t suffer from a shortage of metaphors…but you have to be careful which metaphor you choose because it matters” on this subject I could not agree more and wish this was advice Green himself used. Again I am reminded of Gatsby, Nick is “both within and without” in comparison to Q who eloquently reveals “I felt so detached from all this shit,” he is so far without that he cannot relate to anyone at the party. Q even goes to the horrific extent of claiming that “talking to a drunk person was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain damaged three-year-old.”
Despite being in love and being so much more mature than everyone the house party scene features Q spying on Becca hoping to see her naked. Not only does he blackmail people with naked pictures of themselves but he also invades people’s privacy in their own home, he does not even like Becca and yet he is fine with sexually objectifying her. This completely contradicts his earlier suggestion of being the only teenage boy in America who dreams of literally sleeping with girls. This also proves that until this point of the novel Green’s ‘protagonist’ has shown no signs of character development. I found this extremely disappointing and reminiscent of the television series Game of Thrones where !SPOILER! Jamie Lannister shows some character development as he reveals he killed the King for the good of the people yet he can be seen later in the series raping his sister at their son’s funeral. Although Q’s demise as a mature adult was not quite as theatrical.
On a positive note I did enjoy Q and Margo’s interaction at the end of the novel. I am glad they got to talk properly, away from their reputations back home. Although I found it hard to believe that she had not wanted Q to find her all along and even that the clues had actually lead him to her. It was also frustrating that when they finally found her and they had the opportunity to be completely honest with one another they spent a large portion of time talking about a story she wrote when she was in fourth grade. Margo tells Q that she will not settle down and have kids so she ultimately goes her own way in the world and Q goes home. It is only a slightly more satisfying story than Meyer’s Breaking Dawn which was essentially a build up to a battle that never happened, this is the story of Q and Margo who manage to somehow break up without ever being in a relationship. I enjoyed this novel more than The Fault in Our Stars although I give it the same rating and cannot imagine myself ever re-reading it.
On the one hand I enjoy the fact that everything wasn’t perfectly resolved at the end of the novel. It seems fitting that Margo is not herself satisfied when she is found, on the other hand this doesn’t suggest that she is in a better place. Nevertheless Q leaves her, apparently the whole Margo search party was so he could kiss her and then go home. Thus I believe the climax of the novel failed to meet my expectations. Due to the length of the build up of finding Margo I was hoping for a really great ending. If you are reading this review and have also read ‘Paper Towns’ whether you liked or disliked the novel please comment, there’s nothing I enjoy more than discussing books.
1/5< This is not the only book I have given a one star rating although it is perhaps the most controversial, check out my Goodreads reviews here