Monday, December 15, 2008

Book of the Semi-Month Club

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.

12 comments:

Tabitha said...

Too funny, Marcia. I just brought this book home from the library last week! :) I haven't gotten to it yet, but I hope to later this week. :)

C.R. Evers said...

Thanks for the heads up. I'll have to read this one!

Christy

Gottawrite Girl said...

Wonderful, Marcia... I love reading anything that makes me bust into laughter, and I ALWAYS appreciate the hijinks of fellow, hysterical characters...

: )

Marcia said...

Tabitha -- I had this wild thought that you would post a review of this book today, too. Someday it's gonna happen! :)

Christy -- Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by. :)

GWG -- Then if you pick this up, you'll have hijinks and laughter-busting aplenty. :)

Kim Kasch said...

I believe this is the book that Cindy Pon couldn't put down. It must be good.

Anne Spollen said...

I am reading An Abundance of Katherines now - is the writing style the same? The dry humor and all?

Rena said...

Sounds really interesting.

Marcia said...

Kim and Rena -- It is good, although if I were an editor I might say it "feels familiar." :)

Anne -- It sounds like a John Green book, if that helps. I do get a sense of the same type of nerdy MC who pines after girls he can't get but is basically nice and quite funny, if that helps. But I'd really have to refresh my memory of AAOK to see how well the MCs compare head to head. They're first-person voices, so hopefully there's some distinction.

Mary Witzl said...

A friend recommended An Abundance of Katherines -- I'll have to read it!

I have a very hard time liking self-absorbed characters unless they go through some kind of growth. It doesn't sound like Margo does, so I have a feeling I'd have a tough time connecting with her. But I love the idea of paper towns; I'm wondering if any of them are responsible for some of the wild goose chases I've been on.

Marcia said...

Hi Mary! Thanks for stopping. I didn't like Margo any better at the end than in the beginning, but at least she wasn't the MC. I did like that Q grew up concerning his fixation. I love the idea of paper towns, too. In the author's note, Green says that a store was built to mark one of them. The one Margo flees to, I think. It's a real paper town. Er, a real imaginary town. Well, you get it. :)

Tabitha said...

Okay, I finally got to read this book, and then come back and read your review. I was thinking of writing my own review, but you've already said everything I was going to say. Imagine that. :) Great review. :)

Marcia said...

Thanks. :) You mean you agree that this book is kind of a composite of the first two?