Thursday, 6 February 2014

Book #7 Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns

At the end of 2012 - I read The Fault In Our Stars, the young adult romance novel by John Green, and thought it was a classy affair with real crossover merit. Many people my own age have also read it and recommended it to me, including just the other day a friend of mine from uni days. A film of The Fault In Our Stars is set to appear at a cinema near you shortly.

What then of the rest of John Green's output? I've just got round to a second one of his now and chose Paper Towns.

This novel is told from the perspective of Quentin, one night school Queen Bee Margo who was once his friend and lives next door appears at his window and makes him join her on a series of revenge pranks in the middle of the night and then promptly vanishes leaving Quentin and his friends to decipher the mystery of her whereabouts.

There's a lot to like about Paper Towns and I'll start with that, for every girl with a complicated internal life there is something to identify with in Margo. She's the girl with a million records whose friends don't even know she likes music. The girl with a copy of Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman whose friends don't even know she likes poetry. The popular girl at the centre of things who knows she's faking it all.

She's the girl who keeps going missing because she needs to be found. And the girl who wants to stay lost too.

Margo is a great character - fascinating even, though perhaps with some annoying hipster tendencies.

Margo is the best thing about this novel - but she is also its biggest problem.

The book isn't about Margo. It's about Quentin. Quentin and his friends Ben and Radar - later joined by Lacey who are searching for Margo.

And there's nothing of note about any of them really; Quentin IMs his friends, they play video games, they scour the equivalent of Wikipedia for Margo clues and live out standard American High School Outsider tropes about which there is nothing original.

The only thing that is interesting about Quentin is 'Quentin in relation to Margo' - he's not interesting outside of her. The essential point that John Green is making about people with this novel and it's a great point and one particularly worth making to young people I think, is about how Quentin relates to Margo.

At the beginning of the novel Quentin counts it as a miracle that he ever knew Margo, that she ever happened to be his next door neighbour.

Quentin has an idea, a concept, of the person that he believes Margo to be, he's built it all in his mind, this idea that he has of her, is an impression that he's decided upon. It's an interesting lesson about how we, and it applies to adults too, carry ideals or mistaken beliefs about people based upon the narrative we have imposed upon them ourselves.

Margo, Quentin realises eventually is not a miracle, she's just a troubled girl and nothing more or less than that.

And this is such a good book for young people just for that lesson, but it's a mistake that adults including myself are often guilty of making; of expecting superhuman behaviour from people who we put on a pedestal who ultimately are just as human and fallible as we are.

A good book with a great secondary character 7/10 for Paper Towns the bulk of which didn't engage me - 10/10 for Margo herself.


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