Young Adult – Paper Towns

Quentin has lived for most of his life in the shadow of his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Ever since they found the body of a suicide victim in the park when they were nine years old, Q has viewed the girl next door with a certain amount of awe, mixed, as he gets older, with an all-consuming crush. Margo, for her part, has grown up to be a mysterious figure in their high school; immensely popular, and the subject of numerous legends she is a wild card in an otherwise well-regulated environment. It is thus a complete shock to Q when she shows up at his window at midnight a few weeks before graduation, and insists that he drive her around on a series of adventures. And then, she disappears.

Q’s quest to find Margo becomes all-consuming as the days past. Although he refuses to acknowledge it to himself, there is a part of him that worries she will kill herself if he does not find her in time. Margo, being Margo, has left a series of increasingly obscure clues to her whereabouts, and as Q and his friends spend more and more time trying to figure out the “where” of Margo, those same clues start to lend them insight into the “who” of Margo as well, a girl that they all thought they knew, but who appears to have been someone completely different.

John Green’s previous novel Looking for Alaska also featured a young man who was trying to “find” the real personality of a girl who was no longer physically present. The idea that we can never really know the inner life of someone else is universal, and is a fact that many teens are grappling with for the first time as they enter the later parts of adolescence and start to look past the facades and personas of the people around them. Although similarities can be made between the two books, this one comes across as the more hopeful. There are no happy endings or miraculous personality changes, just a quiet note that life goes on, and the situation is looking up for most of the main characters.

As always in a John Green book, the dialogue is funny, quick, and spot-on in terms of friendly banter between friends. Although most attention goes to Q and Margo, other characters are given their chance to share the limelight. Many of these characters do not have particularly noticeable growth, but Q’s changing understanding of his friends sometimes makes it appear that they have changed. Altogether, this book is a satisfying read.

Notes on the cover: In a nontraditional move, this book was published with two separate covers. One features a girl – presumably Margo Roth Spiegelman – smiling intriguingly against a bright cover. The other cover shows the same girl staring with a more serious expression, with a filter that creates a dirty film and blue shadow over everything. The two covers reflect two sides of Margo’s personality. While I think the covers will appeal to a female audience, I am left to wonder how many boys are going to think to pick the book up. The “happy” cover in particular has a “chick lit” look to it. Which is a shame, because this is really Q’s story, a story that many teen boys would relate to and enjoy.

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