Author: John Green
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: May 2017
I have a list of particular YA/coming-of-age books that I intend to read. And not just a big vague intention, but a full-on goal of getting through specific titles represented in this book spine painting we have. On that list is The Fault in Our Stars, the smash hit of yesteryear that I distinctly remember feeling I should have grabbed for $3 at a grocery store one time. I did just find a copy for $1 at the library though, so hooray for me? And I will read it.
But then I also stumbled upon Paper Towns (in a Little Free Library) I think and I figured what the heck, I know who John Green is and he’s ridiculously popular (or was? I’m not sure anymore) and I should probably know his stuff. This paperback looked easy and refreshing, and it was a nice backpack item for early summer.
It’s a high school story about a too-clever group of friends, and specifically Quentin’s almost-relationship with his next-door neighbor and senior year influencer Margo Roth Spiegelman (often devotedly referred to by her full name, to underscore the mythologizing). Green manages to write about popular kids, geeks, and bullies while avoiding pigeonholing any one character into just a stereotype. He has other astute observations, such as:
High school is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship—nor, contrary to popular belief, an anarchic state. High school is a divine-right monarchy. And when the queen goes on vacation, things change.
The queen is Margo Roth Spiegelman, of course, a manic pixie dream girl that Green spends a lot of time reconfiguring away from being a manic pixie dream girl. This is also partly a road trip story, a mystery story, and a Florida story. The book could be both a dig about and a love letter to Orlando, described as a “paper town” at one point, although that term has a double meaning uncovered much later in the story.
Quentin follows a literary trail based largely on Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and readers will enjoy the uses of popular classics like The Bell Jar and Moby-Dick. More exciting than that, however, is a novel that conveys the feeling of “listening to the Mountain Goats with your friends in a car that runs on a Wednesday morning in May.” Now those are some high schoolers with good taste!
A little sappy, quite witty, and moderately believable, Green’s book is filled with several metaphors about the lives of everyday people, “each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined.”
Music corner: The Mountain Goats reference that pops up in the prose is not the first reference to the band in the book. At the very beginning, one of the epigraphs is a verse from “Game Shows Touch Our Lives,” a song from an album about another Florida city. After seeing that I knew that I was in good hands.