Monday, June 28, 2010
Paper Towns - John Green
"She was the most fantastically gorgeous creature that God had ever created"
Q is in love, gut wrenchingly and achingly in love with Margo who he has known since they were 2 years of age, but while Margo progressed to being a legend at school for her looks and exploits, Q hangs around outside the band hall with his two friends, regarded as geeks and obsessing about getting dates for prom night. Q won't be going to the prom, because if he can't go with Margo, he sees no point in going at all.
When Margo opens Q's bedroom window a month before graduation and invites him along on a long night of revenge Q goes - and has the night of his life, but Margo does not turn up to school the following day, nor the next, nor the one after that. She has done this before, and now technically an adult, no one is seriously looking for her. When Q spots a poster taped to the back of her bedroom blind he realises it's a clue and sets out in search of the real Margo Roth Spiegelman.
John Green's book is a book about that perennial favourite subject amongst teens - identity. Think 'Catcher in the Rye' and 'To kill a Mockingbird'. 'Paper Towns' is easily as good as these classics but has the added advantage of being contemporary. As Q spends his last month of school searching for Margot and following the clues she leaves in a book of Walt Whitman poetry he begins to realise that the popular, beautiful and legendary Margot Roth Spiegelman maybe wasn't waving after all, she was drowning. There is more than a nod to Whitman (the middle part of the book revolves around his poem 'Song of Myself') and Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath are also referenced as is 'Moby Dick'.
Green has created some memorable characters, particularly Radar (remember MASH - no you probably don't you're too young!) who spends all his time editing an online encyclopedia Omnicionary, which has it's own website here (a bit like Wikipedia), and Q's parents, both analysts. Radar's parents have the second largest collection of black Santa's and Ben needs to pee - a lot, which can be problematic on a non stop road trip!
Have I mentioned the road trip? Every good book needs one and this one is to a paper town, which is a town that doesn't exist inserted into maps to spot copyright infringement, and this is of course the metaphor for the whole novel. Margot refers to herself as paper and those around her as paper, the image she has projected is not the real her. In that respect we are all paper, a construct that reflects how we want others to see us. Margot's flight is a search for her real self and, if he finds her, Q realises that he has to accept Margot as she really is and not as he has constructed her in order to love her - even if this means loosing her.
This is a sharply written novel which I enjoyed immensely, it is clever, witty and very serious. It will appeal to older teens who are ready for more than just a plot line in their reading.
John Green is also the author of two other novels only one of which, 'Looking for Alaska'. is available in Europe. All three of his books have won him a huge following in America and 'Paper Towns' has it's own Facebook page here. You can also see John Green answering questions about the book here.
Just go and buy the book, but preferably buy both 'Paper Towns' and 'Looking for Alaska'- you won't be disappointed.