(2008). New York: Penguin. 305 pages
Okay, I confess. I have a slight crush on author John Green. When he and his brother ran a daily vlog called brotherhood2.0, I was a regular viewer. And when he brought his show on the road this October, I made my reservation and headed to Cambridge to sit with over 200 teenagers and hear him read from this new book and answer questions in a speedy format. And it was awesome. Proof I was at the event can even be seen here (I’m next to the girl in the white baseball cap).
But loving an author as a person does not mean I’ll love his books, just that I have higher expectations because I want to love the books. I want this author to succeed. In the interest of full disclosure, I believe all this should be listed before I tell you what I think of Green’s latest book Paper Towns. So there you are.
Set in the real town of Orlando, Florida (not just Cinderella’s palace), this is the story of Quinten Jacobsen’s search for the dream girl Margo who has always lived just across the street. When she comes to his window in the middle of the night promising a night of adventure and hyjinx he agrees. Then next morning, everything changes. Especially since Margo has gone MIA. While Margo’s parents are resigned to let Margo disappear, Quinten (Q) can’t let it go, and becomes obsessed with searching for her. Following a set of strange clues, he begins to learn more and more about the girl next door and possibly gets closer to finding her.
His quest is epic, like that of Ahab searching for the white whale in Moby Dick (the nickname of Q -like Quequeg- was not lost on me either). Of course, a slightly nerdy boy in search of a girl he is infatuated with seems to be part of Green’s formula, as similar plot lines show up in his earlier books. And like his earlier books, some object or quirk holds major importance: in Katherines it was math formulas, in Alaska it was Famous Last Lines. In Paper Towns, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is the vehicle that helps Q learn about Margo and about himself.
In his third novel, Green gets everything right. This may just be the best of Green’s novels thus far. The characters are clever and smart, but not to the point of obnoxious. Q’s best friends create a great balance to his obsession. Margo’s actions and clues are often unexpected. The quest is intriguing, the adventures believable, the story funny. Perhaps, like Margo, Green has finally found a way to balance the image of himself as a writer with the reality of himself as a writer.