A fascinating adventure of one seemingly-courageous-but-totally-freaked-out-geek in search of a beautiful, attractive, but totally freaked out teen rebel he’s absolutely in love with. A captivating, intricately planned road trip complete with a lot of weighty baggage and quirky, clever characters—this is what John Green’s Paper Towns is, his third young adult fiction novel after Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines.
Paper Towns follows the story of Quentin Jacobsen, also known as Q, and his quest to find his runaway ideal girl, Margo Roth Spiegelman, the archetypical attractive high school queen bee at Winter Park High School in Jefferson Park, Orlando, Florida. Margo, who’s had enough of the fake attitude of her friends and the controlling demeanor of her parents, decides to leave Orlando, aptly referred by her as a paper town.
“Here’s what’s not beautiful about it: from here, you can’t see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You see how fake it all is. It’s not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It’s a paper town.” – Margo (p. 80)
On the night before her departure, Margo takes Quentin in a joyride around Orlando, soliciting his help in exacting revenge against all the people who pretended to be her friend all that time. But more than a sinister payback scheme, the joyride proved to be the start of a long and arduous baptism of fire for Quentin, hatched by the courageous and scheming Margo.
When Margo disappears the following day, Quentin is baffled and goes on a fanatical search for her. Examining the different clues she left behind, Q tries to dig deeper into the Margo that he knew, but as he dug deeper, the more he realizes he doesn’t know Margo at all. That the real Margo is very far from the Margo he knew—smart, but reserved, damaged, and has a thing for escapism. He also learns more about himself than Margo as he progresses through the adventure: that he was capable of things he thought he can’t do before. This is where this charming young adult fiction turns into a heart-warming, thoughtful coming-of-age story.
Helped by clever and funny friends Ben, Radar, and Lacey, they analyze each clue for hints regarding Margo’s whereabouts. The whole process is excruciating, filled with a multitude of setbacks, misread clues, and out-of-nowhere disappointments. It was only when they go back to the very definition of “paper towns” that they realize what Margo was referring to and where she was—in the real paper town of Agloe, New York, a fictional town added to US maps to prevent copyright infringement. In the midst of this new found information, they hastily head out on a road trip across the East Coast to reach Margo before it was too late.
Paper Towns is the first John Green book that I’ve read. Before that, I became fascinated by John Green only through his YouTube vlog Crash Course: History. It was only when my blogger friend Clarisse E. mentioned The Fault in Our Stars that I realized that the John Green she was referring to was the same John Green I was watching and realized that he was an author too. Hence, I embarked on a journey to discover all things John Green.
John Green writes in an honest (sometimes too honest) and thoughtful voice through Quentin Jacobsen. You see an overanalyzing teen geek mushing over the sudden disappearance of his ultimate crush when Q talks. The right mix of sentimentality and comedy is what made the prose charming and attractive indeed. And while the book is dominated by geeky characters, Green did a good job of differentiating each one of them: the goofy and sometimes out-of-the-blue action star Ben Starling, and the ever-techie-help-a-friend-in-a-drop-of-a-hat Radar.
I read Paper Towns at a time when I was devastated by the sudden disappearance of someone I dearly loved, and somehow it helped me go through the process of moving on. How after two and a half years of being with her and thinking I knew her too well, I didn't know the real her after all. Or that I might have known the real her but time and distance had changed her too well that what I knew of her turned out to be false already.
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” – Q, (p. 361)
In Quentin’s search, we are reminded of the challenges all of us go through in our own enigmatic road trips in life, and the bravery, cleverness, and audacity we have to muster in order to get to our destination and bask in the glory of having reached it. It also reminds us that ideals such as being there for our friends, getting to know ourselves and others better, and not giving up on people valuable to us, are still ideas worth their weight in gold.
In the end, Paper Towns is one book that I definitely loved reading and would like to recommend to teens and adults alike (but most importantly, to teens), whether geek or not. And when you finish reading, read it again. Every turn of the page is worth it.