Think back to high school (or if you’re still there, think about it now). Was there ever anyone who really intrigued you? Not in a bad way but in a way that you felt a need to know them better but never could, maybe because they were ‘cooler’ than you or they weren’t in your group of friends? What was it about them intrigued you? Maybe you really liked them from afar (you know, ‘like-like’) and maybe you fantasised the idea about being together? Well, here’s a story you might connect with.
Paper Towns by John Green focuses on this—the intrigue teenagers can feel towards their peers and the notion they are more than ‘just a person’. It delves into events that can change a person’s perspective as they come of age and what can motivate them to do what they never believed they could (or would). A story about a young man who fantasises over a love for a young woman, the ‘cool’ girl at their high school and the most notorious, and what he does when she disappears.
The main character is called Quentin Jacobsen, a son of two psychologists who live next door to the Spiegelman’s. Their eldest daughter, Margo Roth Spiegelman (you must say her name in full), is the same age as Quentin and soon catches his eye. They adventure and ride their bikes together. One day they make a horrible discovery—the body of a man who has killed himself.
This is how our story begins. Fast-forward to Quentin and Margo Roth Spiegelman in high school. They’re in their final year with graduation and prom looming. Quentin and Margo haven’t spoken since the day of that discovery, although Quentin is aware that Margo Roth Spiegelman’s influence has kept him away from most bullies and other negative attention during their schooling years (save a few incidents).
Nonetheless, he’s still intrigued. She’s beautiful to him and the string of adventures she has been on pulls him in further. He’s also aware that she’s out of his league and that he would never have a chance with her... until she shows up at his bedroom window in the middle of the night. She’s got a list of things she needs to do and Quentin is her elected accomplice.
They spend the night chasing after her cheating boyfriend and her best friend (who the boyfriend was sleeping with), getting revenge on someone for Quentin, seeing the world at a new height and breaking into Sea World (because of course you do). It’s the night of his life, the adrenaline sparking a lust for adventure and a new love for Margo Roth Spiegelman.
And then she’s gone. Disappeared off the face of the Earth. No one’s concerned at first since this is something that she always does. Rumours start to spread about what she’s doing and what she might be up to. It’s not until her parents are over his house with an investigator when Quentin realises there is something wrong. The haunting words left by the investigator makes him want to know more... but how can he find out.
Looking out his window, he notices a clue. The first of many that take Quentin and his friends on their own adventure. It tests their friendships. It starts new relationships. For Quentin though, it breeds an obsession. What has happened to the girl he’d fallen for? If he finds her, will it be like a romantic movie where the woman falls into his arms and they are together forever? He becomes bulked down and detaches himself from his final year of high school. Nothing else matters to him, spending prom sitting in a dark, dank and forgotten mall that possesses a clue he cannot figure out (although he never really wanted to go to prom anyway).
So, what happens when he, his best friends and Margo Roth Spielgelman's best friend do when they discover where she is? Skip graduation and drive across America? Of course they do. When they do find her, is she okay? Is she alive? Do Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin run to each other with arms open wide, declaring the love they have for each other?
You’ll have to read it and find out!
A tale of obsession, mystery, and self-discovery amidst disappointment. Paper Towns highlights our weakness in becoming tunnel-visioned and the importance of sometimes taking a risk.
What I thought
When I first began to read this I really got into it. The beginning had me hooked. Two kids find a dead guy. Both kids are shocked, although neither of them really understand the concept of death. A mystery ensues. Then boom, no talking between the two characters after that day until a night of revenge arrives in their final year of high school. An interesting concept that had me wondering what this story could be about.
The sarcastic and relatable adolescent humour also caught my attention. There were plenty of times while reading this story where I audibly laughed over Quentin's thoughts or a person's actions. The authentic conversations between Quentin and his friends transported me to their setting, allowing me to really imagine that I was there. And then there was the obsession over Margo Roth Spiegelman, which made me think of when I was in high school and I would obsess over the guys I liked and fantasise about what it would be like to date them.
However, I probably wouldn't go the lengths that Quentin. That might just be me though.
I found it hard to believe some of the conversations between Margo and Quentin and their actions. Not saying that teenagers don't go out in the middle of the night and cause havoc, but some of the touchy-feely and philosophical conversations were too... beautiful? Probably not a bad way to describe something. However, I found it hard to believe teenagers (or anyone) could get so beautifully descriptive and philosophical in conversation. My judgements are also the same for some of Quentin's thoughts.
... Again, that might be something against me rather than the story.
Then there's the ending. I'll try not to give too much away. However, I was so hyped up with events leading to the ending that once we reached the destination I was left disappointed. I don't really know what I expected but it wasn't that. Nonetheless, I can see the beauty and reason behind ending it in such a way. When I first read it a couple of years ago, it left me angry. This time, I'm left questioning about the times in life where I felt hyped up about something only to be disappointed. It's almost like a lesson teaching us that things don't always go how we expect them to.
So, although I enjoyed it more this time than when I last read it, I still feel a little empty from the ending. However, everything before that is great with some well-crafted twists and turns.
I'd recommend this to anyone looking for an easy read. As a YA novel, I'd recommend it to that specific audience because young adults will probably enjoy the humour and relate to the characters. The story twists romance and mystery together, so if you're into mysteries and can deal with a bit teenager angst then I'd recommend giving it a go.
Did you think the same about the ending or the some of the conversations between Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin? Am I the only one who thinks that way about this story? Let me know what you think!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.