Paper Towns by John Green has gotten plenty of buzz, as any new novel by John Green will. And it deserves most of it. Brilliant "guy" dialogue and LOL-funny antics abound. Either Green had a very colorful youth, or you can make this stuff up. If you're John Green. Of course, there are spoilers below.
High-school-senior Quentin Jacobsen has known fellow senior Margo Roth Spiegelman since they were two, and loved her almost as long. Margo is adventurous, mysterious, uattainable, curvaceous, a frequent runaway, and in Q's life when she chooses to be. And the night she cooks up eleven jaw-dropping (and hilarious) acts of revenge on her cheating boyfriend, her cheating best friend, and assorted others while she's at it, she chooses to be. She needs Q's help. And his wheels. And to throw out hints all over the place that this night is a grande finale before she says goodbye to this paper town -- this unreal, artificial Orlando. Maybe for good.
Sure enough, Margo isn't in school the next day. Or for many days after. A series of clues leads Q through a number of abandoned new subdivisions to find her. These, too, are "paper towns," in a sense, started and not finished. Fearing that she has killed herself and wants him to find her body, just as the two of them discovered a dead body as children, Q and his sidekicks search through several creepy places, and Green does a good job of making readers fear that Margo may truly be dead. But when they discover the most interesting meaning of "paper towns," the hunt for Margo takes a new turn. That turn leads to a breathtakingly funny and somewhat crude road trip from Florida to New York in 21 hours.
Paper towns are non-existent towns that mapmakers put on maps for the sole purpose of catching copyright infringers. Only the original map will contain the paper town; the infringers won't know to include it because it doesn't exist. Green explains in the author's note that he learned about paper towns when he and a friend found one -- or didn't find it -- on a road trip. This is a great example of using a fresh and different personal experience to inspire a novel.
Now for my misgivings: First, Margo. She isn't only an enigma to Q, she's a bit too much of one to this reader. There's an awful lot of deep conversation between the two when they meet up again at the end of the book and determine who they are, who they aren't, and who they can't be to each other, and I found my eyes glazing over in parts. And I love the introspective and the deep. I found I didn't really care if I understood it all, because I didn't care enough about Margo. I found her a reckless, troubled, self-absorbed girl who needs healing and counseling, too much for Q and their other friends to handle. Second, isn't this story kind of Looking for Alaska meets An Abundance of Katherines? On its own terms, Paper Towns is a memorable book, with funny, likable (other than Margo), totally modern teen characters. And did I say funny? But within Green's body of work -- I hate to say it, but this book seems to me evidence that he may be falling into the trap of writing the same book over and over. I hope his next novel is a definite departure from what he's already done. I'll give this book its due, but An Abundance of Katherines is still the best in my book.