After loving The Fault in Our Stars so much, I was really excited to read more of John Green’s works. Unfortunately, I think I made a mistake starting with The Fault in Our Stars, because Paper Towns was lacking so much that made his latest book such a good read.
The book follows Quentin (known exclusively as Q), a straight-laced, if slightly dorky, high schooler, who is invited on a night-time of pranks by his neighbour and erstwhile friend, Margo Roth Speigelman (who is almost always referred to by her full-name, a conceit that gets really, really irritating). The next morning Q turns up at school to find Margo has disappeared, and spends the final month of his school life hunting out clues that will lead him to her location. The hunt seems like it should be an epic quest, but (apart from the minivan trip, which was actually quite entertaining) instead, it just feels frustrating. Q becomes oblivious to everything else in his life with the hunt, while his friends are suddenly and inexplicably ‘the cool kids’, and making the best of this new life. It’s long, meandering and though the concept of Paper Towns, (false settlements put into maps by cartographers as copyright traps), is central to the plot, the way it’s introduced is clumsy, and any knowledge of what they actually are leads you to spend the whole book wanting to slap Q for his idiocy.
Green has got a lot of criticism about the presentation of Margo, saying that she is simply a clichéd personification of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stock character (best exemplified by Zooey Deschanel, in basically everything she’s ever been in). Now, Green has gone on the record as stating that what he was trying to do was undermine this trope, and cites the way the book ends as evidence of this. He may have a point, and I’m not saying I agree with the accusations, but if the subversion of a trope only occurs at the very end of a novel, it’s not going to have an effect. If you got through the entire novel seeing a character as one thing, to have a revelation at the end that actually, they were the opposite, works when it’s on a large-scale, but for something like this? It doesn’t really fit. Add to that the fact that Margo’s appeal isn’t really conveyed in the text beyond Q telling us she’s alluring (something this has in common with The Bad Girl, and The Crane Wife), it’s difficult to say that Green succeeded in his goal.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I have issues with YA fiction, but never really elaborated on what I mean. This is mostly because I don’t actually know, and partly because the suspicions I do have, make me feel bad for judging books by their genres. I always have an assumption that these books are going to be aimed at teenagers, and while that doesn’t mean that the plots are lacking in-depth, it often means that the characters are teenagers, which makes it harder to relate to. This is definitely the issue with Paper Towns. I can’t work out of it’s because Q is too close to what I was like as a teenager that it cuts too close to home, or if he would have annoyed me when I was 16 as well. Either way, I think that Paper Towns is definitely the sort of book I would have liked, had I read it seven or eight years ago. Now though? It just felt a bit too immature, and really a disappointment in comparison to The Fault in Our Stars.