Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

Paper Towns John Green
Published: September 22, 2009
ISBN: 9780142414934
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Recommended for fans of young adult fiction

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... 

My Thoughts:
It is no secret that John Green has a bit of a cult following--and it is easy to see why.  He's a talented writer and he is tuned in to what young adults feel.  He's not afraid to tackle tougher topics, but he also doesn't dumb things down for his audience.  For that, I have great respect for him.

My first encounter with John Green came when I read The Fault In Our Stars, a book I greatly enjoyed.  Since the movie version of Paper Towns is soon to be released, I decided that I would make this my 2nd Green read--so I can only compare it to The Fault In Our Stars.

I say this because, based on these two books, I get the feeling that John Green is a formulaic writer.  Both books feature characters at a crossroads, which admittedly is not uncommon in Young Adult Fiction.  They also feature scenes of property damage sprees and unbelievably understanding parents.  Okay, that last part isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The fact that there is a framework may not bother many people.  Let's face it, if it were a universal sin to be a formulaic writer, Dan Brown wouldn't have a prayer.  Unfortunately, it does bother me.  John Green is a very talented writer, but I really wish that he would get out of the box of his own making--at least I hope he does.  I will most likely read more of his books in the future so, you know, it could happen.  Heck, it may have already happened for all I know.   But the fact that this book was so similar to the other one of his books that I read did negatively impact what I felt about this book.

However, let me address what I did like.  I liked Quentin as a main character.  I found him to be a believable narrator.  He's an essentially good kid--a young man who is trusted by his parents, gets good grades, and has a good social circle.  I enjoyed reading his interactions with his friends, who were the sort of people I knew in high school.  Yet, putting him next to Margo highlights what a troubled young woman she is.

As I said, I am a fan of Green's writing--he is eloquent without being dramatically poetic.  I think this is what makes him so appealing to young adults.  Let's just say there is no shortage of quotable passages in this book.  Yet, he is still able to capture the vernacular of high school students and weave it seamlessly into his prose.

Now, to my main problem with this book--and I have to admit that my own experiences greatly affected my feelings here--which is Margo Roth Spiegelman.  You see, I knew a Margo when I was in high school--granted my Margo wasn't as clever as Green's Margo and she never led us on a cross country hunt (probably because it never occurred to her), but I know first hand how damaging someone like this can be.  In many ways, Green romanticizes Margo and that just left a bad taste in my mouth.  Margo is a very, very troubled person and that is never truly addressed.  Quentin actually sacrifices quite a bit for her, yet he never really sees the cost of what he's done for her.  In this respect, I found the book unsatisfying.

So, I'm torn on this.  Was this a successful book for me?  No.  Would I recommend it to others?  I don't know.  I do think that the younger the reader, the more likely they are to enjoy this book.  Yet, the farther the reader is from their own youth, the more likely they are to see the consequences of the characters' actions and behaviors and, as a result, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with this story.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Paper Towns
by John Green


  1. ooh interesting! i love john green, but loved him as a younger reader, so not sure how i'd feel now

  2. The name John Green caught my attention because one of the Headmasters of my high school alma mater had the same name, but I don't think it's the same John Green, :)

  3. I'll take your warnings to heart here and skip this book.

  4. How many years later and I am still recovering from the Fault in Our Stars!

  5. I have to agree that's one of my frustrations with young adult literature sometimes is that it's all about fate and doing these sacrifices but without always exploring the consequences and if there is a more intelligent (versus physical sometimes) way to get through situations!

  6. I read this one a couple of years ago. It hit a bit close to home because of the "average"-ness of the protagonists and his friends. That and I'm quite the fan of John Green on YouTube.