A good book review : Paper Towns by John Green

A good book review ! When I first picked up Paper Towns, I was sure that it would exceed expectations. Having read most of John Green’s works by then, this was but a perfectly valid presumption. But not only did the novel exceed my expectations, it made me rethink what I considered ‘exceeding expectations’, and compelled me to set my standards for the same, fairly, unreservedly, higher.

  The novel is a work of young adult fiction, along with storylines of teenage love and palpable mystery that is sure to keep readers engaged throughout. It also follows the plot of a ‘bildungsroman’, which is defined as a “coming of age” of a generally naive person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions with the expectation that these will result in gaining experience of the world.

   The story follows Quentin Jacobson and Margo Roth Spiegelman, both seniors in a high school in Orlando, weeks away from graduation, and is told from Q’s (as he is referred to by his friends) point of view.

Discovering a dead, bloodied man  

The prologue describes an event that happened when they were nine years old, when Q and Margo discover a dead, bloodied man – whose name, they will soon come to know, is Robert Joyner – as they are playing in a park. This is a crucial aspect to the way their bond is formed, and hints at how it will most definitely persist through the years. A good book review will create the curiosity to read the book !

Margo appears at Q’s window  

In Part One of the book, Margo appears at Q’s window, and they have their first interaction since that one fateful day when they were nine. She undertakes him as her partner-in-crime, to go on a night-long string of adventures and wild schemes to right the wrongs done to her – ironically enough, by doing more ‘wrongs’. Q is more than happy to oblige to this, for he has always been in love with her, though only from afar.

Drive into downtown Orlando

   Their adventures, however, do not stop there. Margo convinces him to drive into downtown Orlando, and they climb to the twenty-fifth floor of a building, and view the entire city from the darkness of an empty conference room. This is where Margo quips that Orlando is a ‘paper town’, which she defines as a place that’s flimsy and fake, where nobody leads a life of substance, built to fall apart.

   They end their wild night by breaking into SeaWorld, as suggested by Margo. Q relishes all this, as it offers an escape from the mundanity that is his life, or was his life, up until then, and of course, because he is so taken by Margo in all her unpredictable, uncertain glory. A good book review, of-course !

Margo is missing

   In Part Two of the book, Q comes to know that Margo is missing. When her parents, along with a detective, come to his house, looking for answers, he lies and does not mention anything they did that night. Q is surprised to find out that Margo has done this before – running away, disappearing, but always coming back. Her parents are seemingly annoyed at her, rather than worried, and when the detective asks Q to speak with him in private, he tells him everything.

   This is when the detective uses the metaphor of a helium balloon to describe Margo, how she is one, straining against the string of her parents. He says that when something happens to cut the string, the balloon floats away, but there are lots of lost balloons filling the sky. Q is left confused by this, but the detective reassures him that she will return.

Discover ‘clues’

   After her parents leave, Q, along with his friends, Ben and Radar, go to her house when they aren’t there, and bribe Margo’s little sister, Ruthie, to let them in without telling her parents. Once inside, they go to her room, and it is then that they discover ‘clues’ that he believes Margo has left for him, and Q takes it upon himself to find her.

   He works on them for weeks, and finally he and his friends, along with the unexpected company of Margo’s ex-friend, Lacey, follow the clues to an abandoned minimall in a ‘pseudovision’ – suburban developments that were abandoned before they could be completely built.

   It is there that he discovers her obsession with ‘paper towns’, which happen to be other names for pseudovisions.

   Having found nothing that seems of any importance, and weirded out by the abandoned place, they leave.

Margo in a couple of pseudovisions

  Q then begins to look for Margo in a couple of pseudovisions nearby for clues, but in vain. On prom night, he leaves his friends and drives to a couple more pseudovisions in the hope that she will be at one of them, but finally returns to the minimall where they had first gone looking for her. This time around, he finds traces of her, like travel guides published in 1998, long after the mall had been abandoned, which leads him to believe that she might have come there after she had left.

   Q then tells his friends about it, and two days after prom, they all decide to go to the minimall together once again. There, he sees a pile of subdivision brochures that have been stacked into a house of cards, and he writes down the names of the subdivisions so that he can check them out alone. He drives to a few of them, but finds nothing. Nice, one. A good book review !

   A couple days later, in his room, as he is staring at all the maps that he has pinned on the wall – in concurrence with his obsession with finding Margo – he gets frustrated and rips them all off. In doing so, he notices the pattern of the holes on the wall, and it occurs to him how Margo must have had a map pinned up with points plotted by thumbtacks, as that would explain the pattern of pinholes they had found in the wall at the minimall.

Map with pinholes

  Q, along with Radar, drives back there, and searches a box of maps and brochures until they find a map with pinholes in it. However, the map is badly ripped, making it hard for them to decipher the exact locations that she must have pinned. Q notices that one of the rips is somewhere near a place called Woodstock in New York, and is reminded of the time Lacey told them about New York being the only place in all of America that appealed to Margo.

  Finals come and go, the last day of school comes and goes, and everyday Q is reminded of Margo.

Browsing Omnictionary  

On graduation day, as he’s browsing Omnictionary,a website that Margo browsed through a lot, he discovers a page on Agloe, New York, which is a fake town that had been created by a corporate company. This is when he learns that he has interpreted the word ‘paper towns’ all wrong. ‘Paper towns’, it turns out, are also another term for copyright traps, or fictitious towns that mapmakers would put on maps to figure out if somebody were plagiarising them. A good book review, well done. It improves the listening skills of an individual.

   On the discussion page for Agloe, an anonymous user has posted, “fyi, whoever Edits this––the Population of agloe Will actually be One until may 29th at Noon.” He is sure that the comment had been left by Margo, because she capitalises her words at random, and sees that it had been left fifteen days ago. This leaves Q with just under twenty-four hours to make it to Agloe before Margo leaves.

Lacey decide to skip graduation  

Q, along with Radar, Ben and Lacey decide to skip graduation and drive the 21 hours it takes to get there in Q’s new minivan that had been gifted to him by his parents as a graduation present.

   After one long, suspenseful, frantic, but altogether what one would describe as a heck of a road trip, they reach Agloe. They notice her car parked out at the front of an old barn, and upon entering, see Margo hunched over a desk, writing. She tells them to give her five minutes and continues writing. When she finally acknowledges all of them, she behaves like a brat, acting aloof and indifferent towards them. Lacey, Ben and Radar, frustrated, leave. And this is when Q calls her out, asking her why she had left them all those clues if she didn’t want to be found. Their friends then call him, telling him that they are going to stay in a nearby motel, and will be leaving in the morning, with or without him.

Plans to escape 

Margo then opens up to Q, telling him how she had always planned on taking Quentin along with her in her plans to escape, but was shocked that he was not a ‘paper boy’- a boy who conformed to others ideas or imaginations of him – while she felt very much like a ‘paper girl’, an idea that everybody liked, which is why she wanted so badly to go to Agloe, a ‘paper town’. They talk about how complicated life really is, what the effect of seeing a dead Robert Joyner had on her, how she feels that there are still cracks inside of her, rooted deep and how she will probably never want to return. A good book review ! These types of book reviews make everyone to develop the reading habit.

   They then go out and lie in the grass, and they talk about imagining, of how nothing ever happens like you imagine it will. But, if you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all.

   The next morning, in a last attempt to get her to return with him, he talks about how he viewed that one fateful day when they were nine years old. He says how Robert Joyner was just a body to him, and uses the metaphor of watertight vessels to describe how he looked at it.

Looking at ourselves through window shades

He says how we’re all just watertight vessels. There comes a time when we completely crack, and there’s the gradual cracking that leads to it. And it is between these, we can truly see each other – out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. Before that, we just look at ideas of each other, like looking at ourselves through window shades, but not quite completely inside each other.

   Finally, when Margo tells Q that she can join him when she leaves for New York, Q refuses, and says that he has a whole life that he cannot leave behind.

   She then drops him off at the motel, and they stare into each other’s eyes, before they go their separate ways.

The crooked darkness

   “Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this crooked darkness.” John Green never fails to amaze, and that is needless to say in this case. The book almost made me question if I even deserve to read such an intricate, outlandishly beautiful piece of art, but not quite. A good book review ! Know to select the right book to read.

   It is like Green said, that we’re all infinitely interconnected – leaves of grass that arise from the same root system. Thinking of others as extraordinary – as Q did Margo – so different that they’re not even human, does not help anyone. It made me realise that all humans are the same in its simplest sense – that we are humans, that we belong to the same species. We are born, we live and we die. Nothing lasts forever.

   But, in the words of Emily Dickinson, as quoted by Green in this book, “Forever is composed of nows.” As long as one thing lives on, nothing really dies. Who others truly are, you may never find – may never even get close to finding. But trying doesn’t hurt anyone. Maybe you’ll find who you truly are in the process.

A good book review from Sneha J B, Grade 11

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