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Paper Towns by John Green
Published by Dutton Juvenile on October 16, 2008
Genres: Young Adult
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Sitting in a restaurant across the road from the SeaWorld Q and Margo broke into felt like the right place to read Paper Towns by John Green for the second time. The first time was when I binged most of John Green’s novels. The most recent read was last week in preparation for a book club session that ended up having very little to do with Paper Towns, the chosen book for discussion.
Paper Towns is the story of Q. He’s a high school senior, about to graduate. Q lives next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman. Margo is magnificent. She’s beautiful, and confident, and popular, and smart, and a bit rebellious. She’s dating a footballer, her friends are the popular kids, her life is perfect. Sure, she’s run away a couple of times, but that’s just part of the brilliance that is Margo Roth Spiegelman. Not that Margo speaks to Q, not really; not since they were children. She’s a popular kid, and the only reason why Q isn’t bullied as much is that Margo keeps the bullies under control.
Then one night, just before graduation, Margo climbs in Q’s bedroom window and recruits him on a night of revenge. They Veep an eyebrow, Club-lock her cheating ex’s car, hide a few catfish, and a few more. After breaking into SeaWorld (because why not?), and a sleepy return home Q is eager for the next day at school. Will Margo join him and his friends for lunch? Is this a turning point? Except Margo doesn’t make it to school the next day, or the day after that. Q and friends then follow her clues, discovering a paper town.
I totally Ravenclawed this reading (I was going to book club, shush), and it meant I noticed things I didn’t recall previously. There are some beautiful lines like “Margo’s beauty was a kind of sealed vessel of perfection—untracked and uncrackable.” I also can’t recall if I understood the story previously. It’s easy to think the story is about Margo. She dominates so much. Q is in awe of her and wonders what would Margo Roth Spiegelman do?, she keeps the school bullies inline, it’s all about her. Except it isn’t. Book club was pretty much a flop, but for the five minutes, we spent discussing the book (and movie adaptation), some of the people were disappointed by a lack of closure at the end. I suspect it’s because they were caught in the Margo whirlwind and forgot it’s Q’s story. I don’t think that it’s a confusing story, it’s just Margo is such a strong character.
As with all good stories, there are side stories because people are complex. One of Q’s best friends, Radar—nicknamed from the MASH character—will inherit the Guinness Book of Record-verified largest collection of black Santas. Q’s mother works with incarcerated youth, and applies her training to parenting Q.
Another thing I picked up on this time was Lacey. She’s Margo’s popular friend, who to give a spoiler starts dating Q’s friend Ben. In one scene towards the end, Ben and Radar are making crass jokes. There’s nothing particularly nasty about it, but still not nice. Lacey calls them on it. From the start, I imagined her the insecure popular girl wanting acceptance, but she had a spine. I like that. I also like it because having that tiny throw-away line shows the readers that crass behavior is inappropriate. Thank you, John Green.
I haven’t seen the Paper Towns movie yet, but they cut out the SeaWorld to salvage ticket sales and because SeaWorld’s management is cruel and nasty . But here’s the pre-SeaWorld break-in shopping trip scene in song.