Book Description from Amazon
When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q.
I've kind of had my fill of Young Adult novels but I promised my 12 year old son I would read all of John Green's novels. Considering he's obcessed with PC gaming and anime this was one of the rare things we actually have in common. (Although had I read Green's novels first I may have refused to let him read about so much drinking, sex, and general shenagins. Whenever I complain about how the novels are too inappropriate for him he says something like "Oh Mom. Kids read this in school!" I read things like the Red Badge of Courage in school.)
Paper Towns at first seemed different than John Green's previous books for the first third of the novel. The first part of the novel is about Margo begging Q (Quentin) to help her with a night of revenge and teenage shenigans. Quentin has been in love with Margo since age 9 and even though she hasn't spoken to him since they shared a traumatic experience at that early age, he obliges her request even though it involves breaking the law.
Quentin expects Margo to suddenly become a regular part of his life again but is disappointed when she runs away from home again. He knows she leaves clues about her whereabouts and this time Margo has left clues just for him. Quentin along with a mix of his and Margo's friends team up to use the clues in an attempt to track down Margo. Time is of the essence because they fear this time Margo will commit suicide or worse, is already dead. The more clues Quentin finds, the more he wonders if he ever knew Margo at all.
If you have read Looking for Alaska, the plot to Paper Towns will seem quite familiar. The themes are even the same. The main characters are both obcessed with girls that have never loved them back. The books are just too much alike for me.
In one part, Quentin talks briefly about Moby Dick yet never realizes that he's Captain Ahab and Margo is the white whale. The difference is instead of wanting revenge he has a savior complex. Not only is Quentin obcessed but he's also a grammar Nazi and frankly seemed to be completely unable to let loose and have fun. He looked down on his friends for behaving like normal teenagers. I didn't really like him. Just as in Looking for Alaska, it is solving the mystery that kept me reading not because I actually cared about the main characters.
The idea that Margo has left Quentin all of these clues about her whereabouts without having spoken to Quentin in years simply isn't that believable. What's even more unbelievable is that Quentin's band geek friends end up dating Margo's friends who are in the popular crowd.
What bothered me the most about this novel is that at no point does anyone step back and say, "Maybe Margo is batshit crazy? Maybe the fact that she repeatedly runs away, does so with such needy drama, and likes to stay in condemned buildings means she has a mental illness?"
The worst part of the novel is that the four teenagers sacrifice walking at their graduation to go on the final rescue mission to find and possibly save Margo. Because parents of four teenagers would say "Sure, make a 21 hour road trip across the country on your graduation day with 5 minutes notice." In fact, permission was never given. The teens basically tell their parents they are missing gradation for this trip and they just need to deal with it. Did I mention they do all this with 212 beers in the van?
They never realize that Margo is mentally ill and cannot be rescued without some serious professional help. This is made all the more unbelievable because Quentin's parents are psychologists and Quentin routinely listens to their conversations. You would think he'd at least pick up some of the symptoms of mental illness or at the very least ask his parents if Margo's lifestyle choices are normal.
The ending of the novel tried to be really deep but it's really just Quentin unable to see past Margo's insanely self-centered and bratty behavior. There's a lame attempt to convince us that Margo had always cared about Quentin even though she hadn't talked to him for nearly a decade. This book seems to almost teach kids that running away is the answer and living in condemned buildings with rats and rotting floors is adventurous and glamerous, not incredibily dangerous and stupid.
Looking for Alaska treated depression and suicide with the seriousness that it deserved, but in Paper Towns it's treated as mere eccentricity and wanderlust. Had Green written about Margo's behavior with more seriousness, I would have enjoyed the book more. Or at the very least if he had someone at some point suggest she get mental help.
The book endly badly as well. It's never known how the hunt for Margo even affects Quentin. The book ends without giving Quentin any time to process what happened. You never find out whether or not he thought it was all worth it in the end or how it changed him.
(*Note* Since this technically wasn't a romance. I'm not sure it can really be counted for the VaVaVoom Read-a-thon.)