Paper Towns, by John Green

paper towns

Grade: A

Doing it at: N/A this is a classy real book, guys

Catnip: Girl Next Door; Mystery; YA; High School Confidential; Road Trips

Shame Scale: No shame, any shame I had over reading YA as an adult disappeared after I plunged full force into trash.

Fantasy Cast: Nat Wolff; Cara Delevingne

Book Description:

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificent Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. When their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Margo has disappeared. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Embarking on an exhilarating adventure to find her, the closer Q gets, the less he sees the girl he thought he knew.


We decided that since neither Mary or I had read Paper Towns, even though I think we’ve read every other John Green book, one of us should definitely read and review before the release of the movie on Friday. I was happy to bite this particular bullet, I’m a big John Green fan and frankly my brain was happy for a break from trash. Just a tiny break, not an all night break.

It had been probably a year since I finished my last Green book, An Abundance of Katherines, and I had forgotten what a good writer he is. Witty, funny, deeper than your average YA book, great characters who feel fully fleshed out. If you only know him from The Fault in Our Stars, consider this me urging you to dig a little deeper into his catalog. Augustus Waters is really the least charming of John Green’s book boys.

Quentin and Margo have been next door neighbors since toddler-hood. They were close when they were little, all small children being equal and any playmate being a good playmate, but as social castes became established, Margo rose to the top and Q settled somewhere much lower. Right around the band room to be exact. He isn’t even in the band, he’s just friends with all the band geeks. But Quentin has no opining about his lack of popularity, he’s smart, he likes the everyday routine of his life, and he and his two best friends are delightfully in bro love. Seriously I could not stop grinning about how cute Quentin, Ben, and Radar are:

“Honestly, she’s hot, but she’s not that hot. You know who’s seriously hot?”

“Who?” I asked

“Lacey,” he said, who was Margo’s other best friend. “Also your mom. Bro, I saw your mom kiss you on the cheek this morning, and forgive me, but I swear to God I was like, man I wish I was Q. And I also wish my cheeks had penises.” 

“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 itself is used to cut diamonds,” I added.

Radar tapped a locker twice his fist to express his approval, and then came back with another. “Ben 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.”

I think that I don’t want to date one guy, I want to date a guy and his friends who he’s close and hilarious with instead. Is that kosher?

Quentin has also been in love with Margo forever.

Margo, initially was written a bit like a sharper edged manic pixie dream girl. She talks in ways no real girl (or boy) talks, and is notorious for running away from home, for breaking into Disney World, and making friends with celebrities. She’s just 18, but she’s a larger than life figure in her small town suburb of Orlando. My brain was having a hard time with Margo as anything other than a caricature, she seemed the least REAL of any of the characters. But Green deals with that handily, by having Quentin realizing that he doesn’t know Margo as Margo, he only knows her as the girl he likes, as the stories he hears, as the myth of Margo Roth Spegielman. When we meet the real Margo it is a different, less manufactured girl.

If you’ve seen any of the legion of movie previews you probably have a rough idea of the beginning of the story, Margo asks Quentin to help her perform a series of revenge tasks over the course of one night, mainly because she needs him as a getaway car. Her parents are so accustomed to her shenanigans that they took her car away, stashed the keys, and are well past done with her behavior. Everyone finds Margo charming EXCEPT her mother and father. Which, I can see where it would get exhausting, but you have to love your kid. Even if she’s headed on a one way course to The Manic Pixie Rest Home.

I’m loath to spoil anything for you, I’m going to strongly advocate for people to read this one, preferably BEFORE you see the movie, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the movie for you either. Without delving into finer points, Margo disappears. She leaves a series of clues for Quentin, who becomes obsessed with finding her. It is his last three weeks of high school and instead of studying for finals he obsessively reading and rereading a highlighted copy of Leaves of Grass that Margo left for him to find (I’ve never actually read Leaves of Grass and it always makes me think of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski). He could care less about prom or even the graduation walk. His whole life has become focused on where Margo has gone, and what state she might be in where ever she might be.

The middle portion of the book, where Quentin is really not sure that Margo is even alive is incredibly well written, Green writes about the visceral fear that accompanies a taut situation in possibly the truest way I’ve ever read. His friends ebbing interest in the Margo quest, and their annoyance at Q’s obsession cause small tensions,and Margo’s friends mixing with the lower social order friends of Q provides some needed levity when the worry about Margo is at its thickest. Green writes about teenagers like he still is a teenager. Remember when being late to class or missing a test was the worst thing you could imagine? Green does, and he’ll help you remember as well.

Still if I could see her tomorrow… But no. “I can’t miss school,” I finally said. I unpaused the game. “I have a French quiz tomorrow.”

“You know,’ Ben said,” Your romanticism is a real inspiration.”

Paper Towns culminates in a mad dash 24 hour road trip. In my late teens my roommate had family that lived about eight hours a way. It was pretty common for us to last-minute decide to drive down there for the weekend, and we’d drive in one long stretch of snacks and music and my non stop chatter (she liked it! Some people like it!). We’d stay 36 hours and then turn around and come back, more than once we’d arrive, pick up someone and turn right around to make it a 16 round trip. Quentin’s planned-to-the-second, eventful, and tedious road trip with his friends made me want to get in a car and drive in in the worst way. I’ve read that the road trip is a distinctly American thing (I don’t know this for sure, any international readers should chime in!), and I think no adolescence could be complete without at least one long trip. Where the car becomes your whole world.

The ending of the book itself is well done, but I can’t talk about it because as far as we are concerned the ending is like Fight Club. It’s rare that the Book Shame ladies endorse a book that has zero doin’ it, but we are endorsing this one. Paper Towns was an engrossing, endearing, smart read. And a good champion in the YA isn’t just for the under 18-set battle. Get thee to your bookstore (or Kindle store) and buy this book.

Click to see it on Amazon:

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