Monday, April 21, 2008

Paper Towns by John Green

I just finished reading the ARC of Paper Towns, and it was damn near perfect. I want to be a little bit jealous of John Green’s ridiculous amount of talent, but… I just can’t.

Since the book doesn’t come out for, like, six more months (I love my job!), I don’t want to tell too much of the story, but here’s a little bit: It starts out with Quentin Jacobsen, introducing the other major character, Margo Roth Spiegelman, his neighbor since they were toddlers, by telling about something that happened to them in elementary school. They’re now three weeks from graduation, and one night she appears at his window to take him out for a night of pranks/excitement/vandalism. He has the best night of his life and thinks it is going to be totally life-changing. Then she disappears. Like, completely. So the rest of the book is looking for this mysterious girl and piecing together the clues. I wouldn’t have thought of it as a mystery, exactly, though I see that it has “Mystery and Detective Stories” listed in the CIP information, and it’s true – there’s a whole lot of detective work. But, it’s not like a Sherlock Holmes mystery or anything, it’s much more internal: Quentin figuring out this girl, himself, and the way we are all connected.

Things that were awesome about Paper Towns:

Thing 1: It was structured in a really interesting way. I can’t say more without giving too much away. It didn’t seem to follow a traditional plot mountain, though, and it totally worked. (Did you all have to diagram stories with those plot peaks in middle school?) I fear that I was kind of useless while I was reading it, because I kept getting really involved in it and realizing that I’d just lost 30 minutes because there were so many “hangon,thisisareallyexcitingpart” parts.

Thing 2: Such great characters. On one hand, they’re very real teenage guys. They talk like teenage guys, they make jokes like teenage guys, they talk about stuff teenage guys talk about. On the other hand, they’re super smart teenage guys, with brilliant interior dialog, and it was so cool to watch Quentin fitting stuff together and thinking about life in the terms that I fear we lose as we get older.

Thing 3: Like with John Green’s other two books, there are all kinds of great, smart references. Song of Myself plays a big part in the story; Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Woody Guthrie (yay!), and Moby Dick also all make appearances. There’s so much other stuff, too, and it’s amazing to me, here and in the other books, how much stuff he can pack into one book without it ever feeling confusing or cluttered.

Other, smaller stuff: I went to a panel at TLA where one of the things that was mentioned was the lack of parents in YA fiction. The answer was mainly that to have the teenage main character take off on his/her own adventure, you had to get the parents out of the way. It makes sense, but it also made me notice how present the parents were in this one. They weren’t intrusive, but it made for a realistic story about a high school student. And, mostly, it doesn’t matter, but I noticed, since I’d been thinking about it recently.

It was really interesting reading this book after having watched a good part of John Green’s life last year on Brotherhood 2.0. It was kind of interesting to see things pop up in the book and wonder if they were a nod to things discussed there, or to recognize things that there were B2.0 videos about that I now realize were research, like urban exploration. It seems like it should have been distracting, but it wasn’t at all. I really liked it.

Anyway, I love, love, loved it. Can’t wait to hear what others thought. In the meantime, I think I’ll go read Leaves of Grass.

A note on the two covers: when I first heard about the two covers, I thought, "Cool. I like it when books do that." When I heard that it was to illustrate the different ways this girl is perceived I thought it was a little... something. Overly dramatic? Something. But now, I love the cover. I'm still not nuts about the photos, but it really, really works with the book. Also, I was very impressed that (at least on the advanced reader copy), the letters are raised on the yellow, sunny version, and indented (depressed?) on the blue, sadder version. I'm impressed they made the effort. It's pretty cool. For the record, when I go to buy my real copy, I'm going to choose blue. Ooh, I wonder which color the library will get?! One or the other? An even mix?


joanna said...

I was waiting for a Laura review of this book. Nice job! I haven't read my copy yet (well, Patti's copy)but I hope to this week. I love that it takes place in Florida. I hope I recognize a lot of it.

Patti said...

I CANNOT wait to read this. Joanna when do I get a copy??? I'll stop by your branch to pick it up!!!

Jenn H. said...

OOOOhhhhhh, I want to read it too! Can I be on the list?

joanna said...

Jenn, you can have mine. Patti, uh, come over whenever. Call and let me know. :) You also have a new copy of Suite Scarlet.

Michelle said...

Ok I just finished it today and I have to say I feel like I can't even really comment on it yet. I feel like I was in a daze during my first reading and need to read it again to really get it.

There were so many awesome hilarious parts and so many depressing things as well. I swear all of John Green's books are bi-polar!

One thing that surprised me was that I also watched a fair amount of Brotherhood 2.0 last year and it kind of ruined some of the magic of the book for me. Like I heard that joke before, I know where this piece is coming from so for some reason, it made some things I think I would have been in awe of before feel a little second hand. I know I'm weird and I really should feel that I had a special inside look, but somehow I didn't.

Patti said...

I really enjoyed it. And I really thought the dialog was cute and snappy. Having said that, i wish it had been less cute and snappy sometimes. You know that person that always has some fast comeback, they're always "on" and it is sort of tiring to be around them? I felt like there was some of that in the book. But I really did enjoy it, don't get me wrong. The mystery of figuring out where Margo was was fantastic. And I liked all the characters.

I got a big kick out of the fact that Q always called Margo by her full name. It really brought home the point that she was more of a concept than a real person to him.

It was a bit anti-climatic when they found her. All that work for what? And why did she put that comment on the dictionary webpage if she didn't want anyone to find her??? I don't think I would like Margo in real life. I liked it more when Q thought he was searching for her body. I thought it was morbid and awful and totally something that this self-involved girl would do.

I actually think it might be the most accessible of his books. Not just for the smart kids, but also for the mystery lover.

joanna said...

Mm. So good. The Florida references were fantastic. And a reference to the Mountain Goats, which explains a blog post he made a while ago. I wasn't as loyal a B2.0 watcher as the rest, so I didn't have much spoilerage there. I think Alaska is more accessible than Paper Towns because the passages about Whitman could really really turn a reader off. I glazed over a bit myself. Great reference on the use of her name, Patti. I wouldn't have made that connection.

Kerry said...

Still waiting on a copy...

joanna said...

Also, if I had to pick, I prefer the yellow cover.