Saturday, April 25, 2015

Book Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

I have a lot of ambitions in my life, but one of the ones I wish for the most is to be as clever and well-spoken as the characters in John Green's books. While I don't know many teenagers who speak the way his characters due, I am obsessed with the way he writes dialogue, especially banter, and although I think I do fairly well for myself conversationally, I wouldn't mind the the wry observational quality of his characters.

While I believe Hazel and Augustus, the main characters in Green's The Fault in Our Stars (easily one of my most favorite books of the last several years), are the pinnacle of Green's dialogue mountain, Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman (okay, so Green knows how to name his characters well, too), the main characters in Paper Towns definitely have moments which should easily be added to his conversational pantheon.

Quentin and Margo grow up living next door to each other in a suburban Florida town. When they are younger, the two find the body of a man who apparently committed suicide, and while this discovery should have cemented their relationship, it wasn't long before Margo drifted away, finding popularity, new friends (not to mention boyfriends), and an alleged life of adventure, while Quentin is content to life a quieter life, albeit one filled with close friends, video games, and worshiping Margo from afar.

As their senior year of high school comes to close, one night Quentin is awakened by Margo, climbing into his bedroom window, dressed like a ninja. She enlists a reluctant Quentin to be her accomplice and assistant with a series of revenge-related activities throughout their area. (And while she promises no breaking and entering, she promises no such thing about breaking or entering.) While Margo's schemes push Quentin's blood pressure fairly high, and bring the duo into a few dangerous close calls, the late night ride awakens his confidence and sense of adventure, and he hopes that this will be the start of a whole different relationship with Margo.

What he doesn't expect, however, was that Margo would disappear the next day, something she has done a few other times over the years. And when he finds out that the other times Margo disappeared she left obscure clues her family couldn't figure out, he becomes convinced that she has left him clues to find her this time. He seeks the help of his two best friends, Ben and Radar, to try and determine where she could have gone, why she left, and how he can find her, so that perhaps she'll realize the new, more confident Quentin she inspired is someone worth getting close to.

But what Quentin discovers is that people's reasons for their actions don't always make sense to anyone other than themselves, and sometimes our perceptions of a person and what motivates them is vastly different than reality. He also learns about the power of quiet observation, the intensity of friendship, and his need for people to act the way he wants them to.

"Just—Just remember that sometimes, the way you think about a person isn't the way they actually are."

I really, really enjoyed this book, and it once again cemented John Green among my favorite writers. While Paper Towns has a great deal of humor and heart, at times I didn't find Margo to be as fascinating of a character as the others were, so much like Ben and Radar, I sometimes wondered why Quentin was spending so much time trying to find her. But again, Green's dialogue and his storytelling hooked me quickly and completely, and I read this book over a few hours. (You also can't quibble with a book that uses Walt Whitman's poetry as a significant plot point.)

The movie adaptation of Paper Towns comes out later this summer, and I hope it's as faithful to Green's book as the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars was. A book this good deserves an equally good movie, but like always, I'd suggest reading the book first, to get the first-hand exposure to Green's talent. And maybe it will inspire you to plan adventures of your own.

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