Review: Paper Towns by John Green

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Paper Towns
author: John Green
pages: 305
format: Paperback
isbn/asin: 978-0142414934
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (in the genre) or 7.5/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Rainbow Rowell, Jandy Nelson, Matthew Quick, or Ned Vizzini.  In case you don't already have an opinion about John Green.
Who is the real Margo?
Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew...

in short

If you've read one John Green, you've read them all.  That's not necessarily a criticism.  It's just, Green has a formula: nerdy guy with big dreams, quirky manicpixiedreamgirl.  If you don't like that formula, you probably won't dig Paper Towns.  However, I'm very much a drinker of the John Green Kool-aid, so I really had fun with this book.  Despite being a cheerier version of Looking for Alaska, it's got plenty of its own punch and panache.  One night of pranks and revenge turns into a slapdash game of Clue, with Q as our awkward, endearing detective.  Margo could have just run away--or perhaps something dire has happened.  What I really loved about this book was the focus on friendship.  With Margo only an idea for much of the book, the plot centers on Q, his best friend Ben, and Margo's best friend Lacey.  They come together to find Margo, and end up finding kindred spirits in each other.  It's a light, refreshing, kooky high school story with a kickass ending that justified any ridiculousness in the plot.  (If they change the ending for the movie, I'm going to mutiny!)  

in depth

it's sort of a romance
At the start, there's Margo.  She was Q's best friend when they were little.  They played together, skinned their knees together, found a dead body together.  You know, typical friend things.  But alas, Margo was a flighty ball of sunshine.  She became popular, and Q faded to the background.  Until one night, Margo appears outside Q's window.  She takes him on a crazy revenge mission and then disappears, leaving him the only clue to her fate.  And so, the book is about finding her, literally.  The romance between her and Q develops largely in Q's head, in memories and in this strange connection they shared.  Green does a fantastic job of highlighting real Margo versus the Margo in Q's head, and how love can't be formed from an idea.  So, it's less a classic romance with making out and swoons and more of a search for a love that may be.   

but it's more of a road trip.
Even moreso, it's a crazy road trip story.  Finding Margo is the thread and the endgame, but the plot is in the process.  Q is joined by his friend Ben, a delightfully bizarre, hilarious human who's much more my type.  Their friendship is strong and believable.  They have each other's back and they're not afraid to call each other out--which must happen, as Q's obsession becomes more toxic and self-centered.  Then enter Lacey, Margo's best friend, and a prototype of popular.  She also happens to be sweet, clever, and a delightful amount of snarky.  They may be on a clue hunt, but it's the growing friendship, banter, and growing up experience between them that gives this book its heart.  

there's a mystery element
Don't get me wrong, though.  The mystery of Margo is still crucial to the book.  Yes, it's partly a metaphor for finding yourself and finding the truth about people, but it's also literally about finding Margo.  There's a serious undertone to the frivolity: what if she didn't just runaway?  That possibility keeps the tension and stakes high.  I also just liked the idea of the chase.  As the trio moves from clue to clue, they discover this hidden Margo that doesn't quite match the Margos they each knew.  It's a fascinating concept, piecing someone together from what they leave behind--and it draws into focus the fact that everyone has masks.  As Q peels away Margo's layers, the fantasy and reality of Margo come to an emotionally brutal collision.   

and a bit of philosophical darkness
One question underlying the whole chase is, of course, why did Margo run away?  Many readers may have difficulty sympathizing with her.  She's pretty, popular, and has a good home life.  Everyone loves her.  She's talented.  And unfortunately, that's what I hear all the time: "Nothing is really bad about my life.  I don't deserve to be depressed."  And that's just bull.  Margo's character, histrionic and self-centered as she is, highlights the fact that external signs of so-called perfection aren't always enough to make someone feel whole.  People with nice parents can feel depressed.  They can feel trapped.  And, yes, they can feel like their lives are made of paper cutouts, and yearn for something real.  

all in john green's signature cheeky wit
It's a little pretentious, but John Green's just so darn endearing that he can get away with it.  He gives Q his signture self-effacing humor.  You just can't help but like the guy, even when you want to punch him because he's being a little twit.  As with Green's other books, the language here is elevated high school.  These are all bright kids with big vocabularies and lofty ideas.  The philosophizing can get heavy handed, but for the most part, Green reins it in with tight writing and an authentically teenage aura that's difficult to explain.  Plus, it's freaking hilarious.  There were so many parts that made me laugh out loud, i.e. every time Ben opened his mouth.  Green's dry, quick wit gets me every time, and makes what could be a dense melodrama into something light and affecting.  

in a sentence

Paper Towns is a quirky, hilarious adventure that's a little bit about romance, a lot about friendship, and mostly about finding the real people behind the masks.  


  • 5/5  (on a scale from hated to loved) 
  • 7.5/10  (against everything I've ever read)
  • will i read this author again?  Yes!  He just needs to publish another book, grr. 
  • will i continue the series?  N/A 

Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected by stated opinions.

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