Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Paper Towns by John Green


Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Series: Standalone
Published: October 16th 2008
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Length: 305 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: Amazon

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... 


Well, Looking for Alaska remains my absolute favorite, but this wasn’t what I expected, and I mean that in a very good way. In the end, it wasn’t what I expected at all.
"Tonight, darling, we are going to right a lot of wrongs. And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting. But before we can radically reshape the world, we need to shop."

The first 80% of this book followed John Green’s usual (and usually successful) recipe: a smart, well-read and generally well-balanced boy (”Both my parents are therapists, which means I am really goddamned well adjusted.”) becomes obsessed with a beautiful, chaotic and self-destructive girl and, through his infatuation, learns about himself, life and adulthood.

Quentin Jakobsen has been in love with his next-door neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman for as long as he can remember. Margo is everything: she is the most popular girl in school, she is smart, she is funny, she is restless. She has also been ignoring Q ever since they were old enough to have friends outside their neighborhood. Then, one night shortly before their graduation, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window and invites him along for a night or “righting some wrongs and wronging some rights”, after which she disappears, leaving only a few vague clues for Quentin to find. Instead of focusing on his finals and his upcoming graduation, Q becomes obsessed with finding Margo dead or alive (although dead seems more likely by the minute) and while searching, he learns the difference between Margo the dream and Margo the girl.

There are many wonderful things I could say about this book, but above all, I appreciated that Green kept pointing out how extraordinarily self-centered each and every character was. I would love to say that this was limited to teens, as one expects teens to be completely egocentric, but it started with Margo’s parents and spread to everyone else involved. It was sobering in a way, reading about a group of friends in which no one was actually listening to anyone else. It is such a common disease – living in our own heads, caring only about things we have to say and pushing people into the roles we need them to take, accepting parts of them that are somehow useful or necessary to us and ignoring those we find unappealing. And in this orgy of self-centeredness that John Green chose to portray stood Quentin, the most selfish of them all, because his selfishness wasn’t as obvious as that of others. Even in his search for Margo, even while he was constantly repeating that she deserved to be found, what he actually meant was that he deserved to find her, that he deserved to get his ending and be the most special person in Margo’s life, regardless of what the ending actually was. It was creepy and it made me uncomfortable in ways I can’t even begin to explain.

As a huge fan of Walt Whitman, I appreciated the intertextuality in this one. The key to Margo’s whereabouts was hidden in Whitman’s Song of Myself, which was something I enjoyed immensely, and I admired how Green made the plot (and the poem) accessible even to those who weren’t previously familiar with it by quoting the most important parts and offering his interpretation of them and the poem as a whole.

There is something about Green’s humor that just sits well with me (well, except in An Abundance of Katherines, so let’s not talk about THAT book ever again, please). It is true that he uses the same molds over and over again to create his characters: Alaska, Margo, Katherine – if you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. It is also true that his dialogues can be a bit pretentious, seeing how his characters have a smart comeback or a quote ready for every situation, which makes them just a tad unrealistic at times. It is, however, also true that I would much rather read about smart and witty characters, characters that, I suspect, have much of John Green himself in them than boring and average ones.

But this is where it all went wrong: I didn’t know enough about Margo Roth Spiegelman to care about her one way or the other. I wasn’t really invested in her fate because I developed no emotional attachments whatsoever. As much as I understood Quentin’s obsession with her on an intellectual level, I didn’t feel it with him, and I absolutely needed to feel it with him in order to accompany him on his journey. I felt like an observer, and I wanted very much to be a participant.

I have now officially read every book John Green has published (except the one I gave up on, you know, the one that must not be named), but whatever he’s working on now, I’ll preorder months before the release date.






27 comments:

  1. Lovely review, Maja! I'll have to see if my library has this one. The only John Green book I've reader so far was is Looking For Alaska which didn't really impress me. :/ But I'll be reading The Fault in Our Stars soon so I hope Ill enjoy that one! I like John's Youtube videos so it'd be cool to like his books too. ;)

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  2. Oh Maja, you write such amazing reviews. I love this one. I can understand why feeling more like an observer while reading this story would have ruined it a little, but the way you describe Quentin makes me really want to meet him. I'll confess that I have never even touched a John Green book, not a single one, but I'm determined to change that as soon as possible. I might start with Looking For Alaska as you mentioned that was your favourite. :)

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  3. Great review, Maja! I've never actually read a John Green book but spotted this in my local bookshop a few weeks ago. I don't think I'd enjoy it that much from what you've said in your review, maybe I'll start with Looking for Alaska since it's your favourite and I think it's supposed to be one of John Green's best books!

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  4. Wow Maja, your reviews are so amazing!! I love very single one of them. I fell in love with John Green after reading Looking For Alaska, but that's the only book of his I've ever read. I'm going to have to give this one a go! I totally get what you mean... Some books you have to be right there with the characters, or even be the characters themselves to fully get involved and understand and not be left behind. Nonetheless, I think I'll still give it ago, because, I mean it's John Green, need I say more?? ;) I am so happy I found your wonderful blog, Maja and I just love every single one of your reviews. I can't believe I didn't know about your blog before!! :) fab review! :D

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  5. Wow, this is one of my favorite Maja reviews of all time. I love your whole fourth paragraph so much - I think you have Quentin's character nailed there. And yes...John Green does tend to re-write the same set of characters every single time but there's something about his writing that keeps me coming back for more anyway. I'll probably be there waiting for whatever he writes next, even though I didn't love The Fault in Our Stars. I don't know if it was just because it was my first John Green, but I loved An Abundance of Katherines. It probably helped that I love math. And my name is Catherine. I wonder if I'd enjoy it as much now? Now that I'm so familiar with his patterns.... Probably not. Anyway, gorgeous, gorgeous review today.

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    1. Thanks, Catie! This one is your favorite because of the Catie ending, right? I really loved that part. I'm curious about your three-star rating for Looking for Alaska. You never wrote a review and I'd really love to know your thoughts.

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  6. Hi Maja! I tried to read this but stopped even before I finished the first half. Although there were a moments that definitely had me laughing out loud I feel like I couldn't/wouldn't be able to connect with Margo and for some reason it was making me depressed. lol! I don't know if that make sense but when I was reading it I was feeling sad. Weird, I know but maybe I'll try to finish this someday and see what people love about this so much. Great review. :)

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  7. I've never read any book by John Green.
    *bows head in shame*
    I do want to read them though. I love that you mentioned how self-centered these characters are. Now, I'm really not sure how I would deal with that since I really can't stand characters like that, but I am very intrigued.
    I'm curious as to why you didn't like "the book that should not be named".
    It's too bad that you couldn't feel any emotional connection with Margo. I can see how that can be a turn off.
    As usual, lovely review, Maja. :)
    You're great at writing informative ones. :D

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  8. "...above all, I appreciated that Green kept pointing out how extraordinarily self-centered each and every character was." I think that's the first time I've EVER heard someone say that in a review, but it made me smile x) I've never read a John Green book before because I had too many other things to finish when I borrowed The Fault in Our Stars, but I think I'll start with Looking for Alaska since it was your favourite and move onto this one. There may have been a lack of connection (which always brings a book down), but otherwise this sounds like fun! :)

    Beautiful review, Maja! Sam is totally right -- you always write such amazing reviews! ;) <3

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  9. I love this review, Maja. You're so right about the same characters! Have you ever read Will Grayson, Will Grayson? That's the only other book of his that I've read.
    I've heard really mixed reviews about The Fault in Our Stars so I'm kind of holding out from it.
    Also, I simply must read Looking For Alaska seeing as you love it so much. :D

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  10. Brilliant review, Maja. You're spot on about the characters and it's really sad. I've been a John Green fan ever since I read Looking for Alaska. I'm a huge fan of The Fault in Our Stars, even though the smart comebacks bothered me. Real people don't usually talk like that, but I figured the good things about that book outweighed the bad.

    You're so good with words. :D

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  11. Fantastic review. Eloquent as always. :D I adored this novel, but I completely understand your issues with it. For me, I was more interested in Quentin's story and his gradual acceptance of reality, that Margo was a person and nothing more, so it didn't bother me that I wasn't as invested in her fate. Plus, I didn't think he'd (also) end with her dying, so I wasn't too concerned. >_>

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  12. Great review! I am reading The Fault in Our Stars, my first John Green book ever. And thus far I'm really enjoying the witty dialogue. Totally agree that it has elements of unrealisticality. Could you imagine if people actually talked like that all the time? Probably get exhausting to always produce witty retorts. But in reading, it is very enjoyable. Thanks for this review. I'm going to have to check this one out next!

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  13. I really enjoyed this review! The only book by John that I've read is his collaboration with Levithan, Will Grayson. I have TFioS on my shelf but I'm yet to read it and part of me wants to read his older works first.

    All I ever read and positive things about his books so I was happy to read that you have a few teeny issues with his writing, especially the book that shall not be named. It burst the hype bubble for me, and now I'm not so worried about reading his books.

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  14. Maja, you always write amazing reviews (I'm having review envy right now) and this no exception. Also, I can't believe you read yet another vanilla!! What is this world coming to? Where did my favorite Urban Fantasy Queen go?! I though maybe I stopped on the wrong blog for a second.

    I'm wondering, just out of curiosity what happened to Margo, whether she's dead or alive. Hmm...

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    1. Hah, I liked this a lot, but it's definitely not a vanilla. And thanks, Rachel!

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  15. Maja you're reviews seriously rock, each time I pop over here you come up with something so brilliant! Maybe I should just link back all my reviews to yours! ;) I've only read one John Green Looking For Alaska which I loved, I think my library has all the rest so I may need to read them over the summer! Wonderful review hun! :)

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  16. Great review! I didn't mind Paper Towns, but I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as Looking For Alaska, for much the same reason as you stated here - I didn't really care too much about Margo, and I didn't feel like as a reader we really got to know her enough for me to care about where she went. I haven't read the book that must not be named - my housemate owns it but I've never picked it up, I might steer clear!

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  17. Brilliant review, Maja! Like Rachel, I always have review envy whenever I read your review LOL! x) I have to admit that I haven't read any John Green's books (horror!), but you make me eager to pick it soon! You write such wonderful analysis about human behaviors, Maja - I think I'm going to enjoy meeting Quentin with your words in my head. :)

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  18. This is a great review! I felt exactly the same way about Margo. She is not appealing and I was not convinced of Q's feelings. But maybe that is sort of the point? That who she is doesn't really matter, since it is what Q imagines her to be (aka you can never really know someone), and that we can see the problems in his dream girl? I think this would fit with your point about how Q is selfish.

    I would also add that the road trip at the end of the book is UTTERLY DELIGHTFUL. It is fun and funny and moves really well.

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  19. Majaaa, fantastic review! Paper Towns is the only John Green book I haven't read... Mostly because it has received lukewarm reviews and seems to be the least preferred of his books. Your review makes me so intrigued to read it! It sounds amazing- the themes, the characters and their egocentrism, everything. Though it's too bad you couldn't connect with Margo. Especially since most of the book is about her!

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  20. I love the narrative risks. And I think that making your MC basically a dastardly selfish kid is one big risks... I'd have wanted to read it if only for that. But I don't like that much the whole "all female leads are the same", or the fact that you couldn't really connect with Margo. It seems that her fate should have been the one thing propelling the reader onwards, so there's something faulty if you can't bring yourself to care about her... Hmmm.

    Must ponder on this one. Thanks for sharing the great review!

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  21. Gah! Why do I always lose my place when I scroll down to see the footnotes? I'm footnote challenged.

    Well, I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I have yet to read a John Green book. Over hyped authors/books usually turn me off for some strange and illogical reason. But funny, I didn't know that Green had a penchant for writing pretentious characters. Now all I can think is Dawson's Creek! In college, my friends and I would watch that show and make fun of the way the characters talked. We'd try to take their way too sophisticated phrases and dumb them down. It was silly.

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  22. I love your review! Here's mine: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/06/paper-towns-by-john-green.html , Have a nice day!

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  23. I do believe that I have to read every John Green book that I can get my hands on. EEP! Maja you are absolutely majestic.

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  24. So right, Maja. A lot of his female characters are totally interchangeable and I really love the phrase "orgy of self-centeredness." I also loved the inclusion of WW's poem and I like the fact that Green doesn't talk *down* to his audience. However, all his book do tend to have that unrealistic, perfect comeback feel to them. It certainly makes them appealing to read every once in a while but I don't think that FiOS is really a deviation from his standard. I'd really like to see what he could do with something DIFFERENT.

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