Tuesday 14 July 2015

#CBR7 Book 73: "Paper Towns" by John Green

Page count: 305 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Quentin "Q" Jacobsen is a fairly average, if overly anxious teenager. He has lived next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman for most of his life, and been in love with her for as long as he can remember. Margo is one of the most popular girls in school, has a nearly legendary reputation. Of course, she also barely seems to know that Quentin or his friends Ben and Radar exist, but that doesn't stop Quentin from dreaming of her from afar. So when Margo climbs in his bedroom window one evening, less than a month from their high school graduation, saying she needs his help to enact an elaborate revenge plan, he feels compelled to assist her.

Quentin ends the evening exhausted, but exhilarated, convinced that when he arrives at school the next day, everything will be different and for his last month in school, Margo's actually going to be part of his circle of friends. But Margo never does return to school and initially appears to have disappeared without a trace. Her parents are at their wits' end and pretty much threaten to disown her. Quentin becomes obsessed with the idea that she's left clues before she disappeared, and that she wants someone to find her. As Quentin continues to search for Margo, enlisting the aid of his and her friends, they discover that Margo was a lot more secretive and mysterious than any of them expected. As they proceed on their quest for the lost girl, while adjusting to the end of high school and anticipating the future, there are arguments and adventure, revelations and an epic road trip.

When I realised that the film adaptation of Paper Towns was going to be in cinemas here soon, I decided that I'd best get round to reading the book that had been on my shelf for over a year. For a very long time, I was pretty sure that this was merely an ok book, until the last third or so, when Quentin and three others race across the country on an epic road trip to possibly find Margo before she disappears forever. The book is divided into three parts. There's the introduction, where Quentin explains about his friends and his life-long crush on Margo Roth Spiegelman. This part culminates in the audacious revenge plot Margo has designed to get back at those who betrayed and wronged her. It's quite clearly the greatest night of Q's life so far.

Then there is the extremely long middle bit, where Q becomes obsessed with Margo's disappearance and becomes convinced that she left HIM a whole load of clues, wanting him to find her. While he comes to realise fairly quickly that the Margo of his imagination is an idealised Manic Pixie Dream Girl, he entirely give up on the dream that everything will work itself out if and when he just finds her again. If he succeeds in completing his quest, like the knight in shining armour he seems to imagine himself as, he will be rewarded with the hand of the fair princess. I found Quentin really rather tedious in this part, and if it hadn't been for the fact that his friends, and even Margo's friend Lacey, repeatedly call him on his unhealthy fixation and continue to be delightful and entertaining, I possibly stopped reading. I love the way John Green writes teenage friendship, but Quentin really annoyed me.

As I already mentioned, the final third where they have to travel in a minivan for nearly twenty-four hours, with barely any stops, was absolutely my favourite part. While Quentin's last month of high school is pretty much consumed with his need to locate Margo, his two best friends Radar and Ben are having a rather different experience, discovering that interacting with and actually talking to girls instead of just dreaming about them can be a successful strategy if you want a girlfriend. Like me, they get pretty fed up with Q's behaviour, but unlike me, they've been friends with him for years, and as they're good guys, they forgive him his selfishness and even help him. As they look for, and go on a cross-country drive to locate Margo, the reader also discovers the many different ways in which Margo appeared to the people in her life, with Green cleverly deconstructing the afore-mentioned MPDG idea. Tomorrow, I have a chance to see the film version of the book in a preview screening (the trailer looks promising) and if they've adapted the book well (and hopefully shortened the middle bit a LOT), the film may actually turn out more entertaining than the book. The final third of the book, and Q's friends were fun enough that I will give the book 4 stars, but that fourth star is dangerously tenuous.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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