Friday, 7 November 2008

Paper Towns Review

This is posted here because Liv wanted to see it. Perhaps you will want to see it too? If not then I forgive you - it is 1000 words long after all.

Also, if you are my lecturer and have just discovered that review in your hands has been 'plagiarised' then don't fret - if you are the lecturer of 'The Critic' at Griffith University then this is MY review. I just handed it in today. Thanks - give me a HD? Love, Rohan.

John Green is a Printz award-winning author and now a New York Times bestseller. His third book, Paper Towns, d├ębuted at number 5 New York Times bestseller list and has barely slipped since then. This is hardly surprising considering his awards and the extensive following Green has gathered on the internet via his videoblog over the past two years.

Quentin “Q” Jacobson has grown up next-door to the popular Margo Roth Spiegelman in the city of Orlando, Florida. One night Margo appears at Q’s window and asks him to come with her to play revenge pranks – Q is hopelessly in love with her so of course he agrees. Pretty standard Young Adult Fiction, right? Young love, a crazy midnight adventure; you might think you know how this is going to end. But this book comes in three parts, each changing the direction the story takes. The next day Margo goes missing. Nobody knows where she is despite the clues she has left and although Q is hell-bent on finding her, he discovers he never really knew her in the first place.

Upon opening this book my expectations were high. After reading Green’s first book, Looking for Alaska I was impressed and wanted more of his witticisms and spirited characters. However, Green’s second book, An Abundance of Katherines, did not impress me quite as much; would Paper Towns be over-hyped by fans and even less impressive again?

Fortunately Paper Towns did not disappoint, and returns to many things that made Alaska work the first time. In fact, as I was reading I became afraid Paper Towns would become Looking for Alaska II: Looking for Margo Roth Spiegelman. Fortunately, although the two books are akin in many ways (and Margo really is missing for the majority of the novel), Paper Towns is its own story and it develops into something quite different.

The book may be told from Q’s perspective, but it is really all about Margo. We only properly see her in the first third, but Margo Roth Spiegelman is central to the novel all the way through. She is a mythical figure even before she goes missing and Q almost always refers to her by her full name. However, Margo isn’t a living trickster-goddess like Q initially supposes her to be – she is a girl.

Paper Towns raises some interesting and important questions about the way we think about the people in our lives – we think we can see inside them, but really we are just seeing a reflection of ourselves. Paper Towns demonstrates this theme excellently through the many relationships in the novel: Q with Margo, Q with his psychologist parents, Ben with Lacy. In fact, the book is published with two different covers, each depicting a misconstrued notion of Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Also central to the novel is Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself. Many of the motifs used in the novel are taken from the poem, and stanzas are used as clues during the investigation. Q ponders the poem long and hard in relation to Margo’s disappearance, and in a way Paper Towns can be read as a study of Song of Myself. This isn’t to say the book is over-analytical – the balance is just right. It could be read as an interesting tale and no more, but the story is emotional and engaging, and it coaxes the reader into considering the themes and motifs it offers.

Like Green’s other novels, Paper Towns blurs the line between Young Adult Fiction (YA) and Literary Fiction. Older readers may be put off by Paper Towns’ classification as YA, but this book is yet another example of why older readers should be investigating the YA shelves. Paper Towns is unashamedly written with a teenage audience in mind, but the novel destroys the idea that YA fiction is a shallow genre. There is more than enough here to engage an adult audience as well as a teenage one; the thought-provoking themes are relevant to people of all ages. Paper Towns would make a good book-club book for older readers looking to get an insight into the teenage world, or a good text for an English class looking to grapple with issues relevant to their age-bracket.

The writing in Paper Towns is humorous and handled deftly; the dialogue is unforced and natural. Each of the characters are well fleshed-out and have their own tics, making the reader really care about Ben and his lack of a prom date, or Radar’s embarrassment over his parents’ absurd collection of, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

At only 305 pages, Paper Towns is generally pretty brisk, although the story slows during the second part as Q’s investigation sputters and he begins to mull over what he has learned. Also there are points in the investigation that will frustrate readers – is Q being wilfully stupid? Is he really that introspective and over-thinking that he missed such an obvious clue? Then again, the over-analytical scaredy-cat is Q’s character, and casual readers may not find his short-sightedness a problem because they will be caught up in the story.

Paper Towns is one of the best YA fiction books published this year. The greatest problem with it, like many of John Green’s novels, is that it is not yet published in Australia. In order to get your hands on this thought-provoking, humorous and emotional story you will have to order it specially from the United States, or through Fortunately due to demand many public libraries are getting their own copies, so Paper Towns should soon be readily available to anyone with a library card. It shouldn’t be too long before Australian publishers decide to pick up this book either; the movie rights have already been optioned by the creators of the Oscar award-winning film Juno and John Green’s online marketing has garnered him a fanbase worldwide. Expect to see more of this book in the future, and get excited when you do.

1 comment:

  1. Yay thanks for posting this Rohan! It's really good, I can't imagine a better review, especially from an actual nerdfighter!