Quentin Jacobsen is a mild-mannered guy. His parents are both psychiatrists. What the hell do you expect? And he’s a senior in high school. A bit of a nerd, but not overwhelmingly so. Actually, all in all, he’s relatively boring. At least at the start of the novel. He’s just a boy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I imagine him to be a sorta kinda cute-ish boy, but just a boy nonetheless.
And he’s practically in love with his neighbor: Margo Roth Speigelman. (I like the name Margo, just for the record. At first I thought it was sort of odd, but I grew to rather like it.) Except that as the novel proceeds, Quentin finds that it’s not really Margo he’s in love with, it’s the idea of Margo. Because he realizes that he actually really doesn’t know Margo–none of them do.
Margo involves him in a night of adventures and then suddenly disappears. Apparently it’s nothing new, as she’s run away to do things in the past. Only this time, she isn’t coming back. Much turmoil takes its place in the pages following Margo’s disappearance, and I can’t help but sympathize with Quentin. Simultaneously, knowing what I know, I sympathize with her as well.
As with Looking for Alaska (which I do realize I have not discussed with you), Paper Towns has a lot of philosophy running throughout its pages. Concepts that I think more people need to be introduced/exposed to and made to think about. Not just because they’re big, deep concepts, but because they are important ones that help to allow us to grow as individuals. At this point in my life, I have actually come to address most of the things discussed in this book already–perhaps because I’ve surpassed the age group to which this novel is genuinely addressed–but John Green has this beautiful knack for addressing it differently than I do. Obviously, because he’s a different person.
For example, one of the themes is that we, as individuals, have a tendency to look at others not as people, but as ideas, as concepts. When we look at a person’s behavior and start creating this image of who and what we think this person is, it no longer really matter what this person does, the image of them we have created is who they are in our minds. And every person will come up with a different image of this person of discussion–that’s the trick of it: none of us are going to see exactly the same person because we all have our own internal prejudices and hang ups and baggage that alters how we see everything–even if/when we don’t realize it.
Because we are projecting onto others the things we see–or don’t see but hold–inside of ourselves, this kind of blocks our ability to actually consider others to be people–individuals–instead of ideas. We become so entranced with the idea of someone that when we actually start to get to know them and begin to discover that they aren’t some mystical, entrancing enigma, they’re just a person, we become disappointed, in either ourselves, our idea or the reality of the person before us. I don’t think any of us can truly escape it forever; I think it’s a war in which we win and lose certain battles.
I suppose that ultimately, the purpose of Green’s writing is to be both perfectly and beautifully philosophical and yet so endlessly and sadly unfulfilling, since thus is the unalterable nature of life: to ignore what we want and make its own twists and turns and decisions without our prior approval or satisfaction.
In that way, Green’s become one of my very favorite authors–for being so philosophical and idealistic while remaining almost brutally realistic.
In discussion with a very close friend of mine over the novel one night, I received this text message: “[…] I think the main thing with his books is that they masquerade as simple YA literature, but have many of the elements of the classics–namely, that the theme and message take precedence over the plot. While other endings might be more satisfying from a more simplistic storytelling standpoint, John Green writes the ending that drives his point home and makes his audience think.” I include the message because she makes the point more clearly and succinctly than I’d have found myself capable (largely because I’d have been guilty of plagiarism otherwise). Plus it’s a brilliant text message and I like to prove that I have wonderful and articulate friends. Whatever.
I feel as though my reviews maybe ought to be longer, like maybe I’m not really going far enough.
If you feel this way and would like to hear more from me in the way of actual “criticism”, be a dear and comment on any of the posts available. I’d be most happy to oblige. At least in most cases. I try not to drop too many spoilers at the same time, so that certainly limits the amount which I am able to say. We’ll see how long this aversion continues and where things go in the future.
Until next time,