When Quentin Jacobsen was nine years old, he and his next door neighbor, Margo Roth Speigelman, found a dead man in the park.
Margo Roth Speigelman, whose stories of epic adventures would blow through school like a summer storm: an old guy living in a broken-down house in Hot Coffee, Mississippi, taught Margo how to play the guitar. Margo Roth Speigelman, who spent three days traveling with the circus—they thought she had potential on the trapeze. Margo Roth Speigelman, who drank a cup of herbal tea with the Mallionaires backstage after a concert while they drank whiskey. Margo Roth Speigelman, who got into that concert by telling the bouncer she was the bassist's girlfriend, and didn't they recognize her, and come on guys seriously, my name is Margo Roth Speigelman and if you go back there and ask the bassist to take one look at me, he will tell you that I either am his girlfriend or he wishes I was, and then the bouncer did so, and then the bassist said "yeah that's my girlfriend let her in the show," and then later the bassist wanted to hook up with her and she rejected the bassist from The Mallionaires. The stories, when they were shared, inevitably ended with, I mean, can you believe it? We often could not, but they always proved true."
So, yes—Q is very surprised when Margo Roth Speigelman shows up at his bedroom window one night and invites him out for a night of epic adventure and revenge. That she, Margo Roth Speigelman, chooses him, Q. And of course he goes. And he wonders, that night, if everything will be different the next day at school.
And it is. Because Margo Roth Speigelman has disappeared. But she's left clues behind...
Okay, first of all, thumbs up. No reservations at all. I loved Q, I loved Radar and Ben. Well, Ben drove me crazy but I felt like he was a real person driving me crazy. I loved Lacey. Margo Roth Speigelman was a bit more slippery. I had mixed-at-best feelings about her, but because Q cared, I cared. And I cared a lot. The entire second half of the book had me biting my nails and worried. Paper Towns is melancholy, laugh-out-loud-funny, downright sad, often hopeful and always thoughtful.
I did had a hard time separating Paper Towns from Looking for Alaska in my mind. Q, himself, has quite a bit in common with Looking for Alaska's Pudge (and actually, to a lesser extent, to An Abundance of Katherines' Colin): he's extremely bright, a bit neurotic, somewhat geeky but still cool, he has excellent friends, and he loves a semi-mysterious, possibly unattainable** girl. As I love heroes like that, I have no issue with that***. I loved Pudge and Colin, and now I love Q as well. But the similarities between Pudge and Q combined with a missing girl who may-or-may-not be alive, for me, created even more tension and made me even more concerned than I think I would have been if I'd never read LfA. Make sense?
Paper Towns has more depth, I think, than John Green's first two books. (Which were strong books anyway—so that's kind of saying a lot.) The themes that have been revisited are worth revisiting. Identity vs. image, the real, actual person vs. the idea of the person—I kept thinking back to that professor of mine in college who told me that sometimes she'd look around the classroom and wonder what was going on behind all those faces. I think that sometimes people need to be reminded to do that.
John Green, you are three for three. Good on you.
I've thought a lot, since finishing the book, about the effect that Brotherhood 2.0/Vlog Brothers and the Nerdfighter community had on my Paper Towns reading experience. As I read, I recognized subjects and themes and details that have come up in the videos: Urban Exploration, puffy hair, real person vs. idea of person, and, of course, over the last year, John Green talked a lot about his process and his progress.
On one hand, noticing those things was really cool. It made me feel like I'm (however peripherally) part of... something. On the other, whenever I noticed one of those things, it pulled me out of the story a bit. It made me feel sort of like I was on John Green's journey with Q instead of my own journey with Q, if that makes any sense. (Possibly it doesn't.) But the awesomeness of the Nerdfighter community far outweighs any piddling reading issues I had, so I'm not complaining.
*She just has one of those names. You have to use the whole thing every time.
**This last bit doesn't quite jive with An Abundance of Katherines, because in that one Katherine isn't all that mysterious and also Katherine wasn't unattainable because they haddated, but I still felt similarities, so... yeah.
***I've see certain themes and character types show up again and again in Chris Crutcher's novels, and it's never bothered me.