Most people recognize John Green thanks to The Fault In Our Stars as a bestselling author of YA fiction. And although, TFIOS does delight and devastate, and is an unforgettably heartbreaking read, I personally feel that John Green’s creativity and storytelling talent is best expressed in the 300-something paged adventure and mystery love story titled ‘Paper Towns’ and I’ll give you 9 solid reasons why.
1. It deals with the ramifications of obsessive love and the way it dehumanizes the object of our affections: Most of us, unless we are psychopaths, can relate to almost any story of unrequited love, but Paper Towns takes it a step further. The protagonist Q is immeasurably and infallibly in love with Margo, his next door neighbour and a woman he’s barely spoken to since they were playmates but has always spied from afar. As the novel progresses, the question becomes increasingly clear: who is Q actually in love with? The sassy Margo of the real world who runs away on thrilling adventures and disappears for days on end? Or the idea of Margo that Q has built up inside his mind with relentless daydreaming, infatuation and longing?
2. It is filled with poetry references: When Margo disappears, she leaves behind a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass as an important clue. And although the book is not that central in finding Margo, the poem Song Of Myself offers Q a way to understand Margo and himself and the people around him as different individuals with differing desires, yet nevertheless interconnected to each other. Later Margo talks of reading Emily Dickinson and Q quotes T.S. Eliot perfectly.
3. It features the most hilarious road trip sequence: The latter part of the book deals with a 21 hour road trip, where the characters skip their graduation ceremony to find Margo whom they conclude is currently living in the paper town of Agloe. Yet the road trip with its share of music, games and narrowly-avoiding-an-accident moments allows the characters to bond with each other and enjoy a thrilling adventure which seem to become more important than the purpose of the journey itself. No spoilers here!
4. It deals with the last few weeks of high school: And is therefore a perfect read for teenagers transitioning to the college phase. Boring class lectures, canteen gossip and end semester exams suddenly become increasingly poignant. As Q puts it, “This was the first time in my life that so many things would never happen again”, a death of sorts.
5. The mystery is full of suicidal undertones: So if you’ve ever been through an emo phase, you’re gonna be able to relate to it. Much of the narrative deals with Q playing the role of a detective and unravelling all the clues to find Margo- both literally and figuratively, and there are certain moments when the reader suspects that Margo may have even committees suicide. In fact, near the end, Margo actually reads out from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
6. The characters break into an amusement park in the middle of the night: After completing all the items in Margo’s To-Do list, Q and Margo decide to call it a day by breaking into the Sea World amusement park. Of course Margo gets bitten by a snake and Q plays the role of a ninja and they both eventually get caught but not before dancing to a country song with a shark watching.
7. Margo’s revenge plans are unique: When Margo’s boyfriend cheats on her, and she assumes her BFF has betrayed her, she hatches an ingenuous revenge plan that involves photographing your ex in a compromising position, putting dead catfish in someone’s wardrobe, shaving off the class bully’s eyebrow and spray painting your initials at the crime scene with perfect élan. Understated elegance, it is.
8. Much of it deals with daydreams: Q extensively daydreams about going out with Margo and guess what? It transpires that Margo has a black moleskin notebook in which she cross-writes her daydreams and adventure plans one of them involving Q playing the role of a gallant knight and heroically dying for her.
9. It is a story of wanderlust: Margo’s unconventional, no doubt but it’s the wanderlust in her that drives her to skip school and college and leave the comforts of her home and family for a solo backpacking trip across America. Unlike Q who is eager to follow the time tested go to college/get a job/start a family route, Margo plans to sacrifice all that and live her life in the present moment, doing what she wants and on her own terms as well.
Thus there is something in Paper Towns to please everyone and something that everyone will identify with. It may not be perfect but it has the potential to become a cult object. Far from the usual stereotypical romantic YA books, Paper Towns is richly multilayered abounding in complex metaphors and literary references and at the same time a coming-of-age tale of love, dreams and miracles and therein lies it’s sheer brilliance.