Book review: John Green's Paper Towns


I'm a tad disturbed that my blog editor won't let me italicize Paper Towns in the title of this post. The English teacher in me feels something akin to fingernails screeching down a chalkboard. But let's move on, shall we?

I bought Paper Towns way back in September while looking around for some solid teen reading for Becca. I was intrigued by The Fault in Our Stars, so decided to give Green another go. By the way, have you seen John Green and his brother Hank as the Vlogbrothers on YouTube? I've seen a few of their clips, and I'm super impressed with how fast John can talk. It's really, really fast and random, which I quite enjoy.

The story of Paper Towns is actually told from the perspective of an 18-year-old boy -- a boy who (of course) is in love with a girl, who is way out of his league. The literary critic in me needs to tell you that Green tends to beat you over the head thematically. He's leaving nothing to chance -- he's spelling out his main points. But the parent in me likes the straightforward, hopeful text about teen angst and self-discovery and the attempt to understand others. And, fear not, there is a subtext in there for us old timers as well. 

Quentin, the narrator is unbelievably mature, self-aware, and an astute reader of Walt Whitman -- all characteristics focused, of course, towards the quest for his lady love. And yes, there is a coming of age, in a very existential, intellectualized sort of way. Here's the crux of it:

Each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And these things happen--these people leave us, or don't love us, or don't get us, or we don't get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack open in places. And I mean, yeah, once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable. [. . .] But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it's only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out (Green 302).

And . . . here's John Green's summary of the novel:

I'm going to have to go all fan-girl on you right now and express my love for John Green and his novel. It's timely and relevant and oddly touching. And as a mom of teens, I'm interested in his perspective and how teens respond to his work. Both Becca and Madison have copies, and as soon as I have their honest-to-goodness teen review I'll get back to you.

In the meantime I'm moving on to Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines.