Just a twenty-something living the dream, trying to check off the bucket list, one entry at a time
Note: As a journalism major, I’m taking an Opinion and Editorial Writing comm class. We write a column every other week for an entire semester, so I figured I’d start self-publishing them here. Enjoy!
“What a treacherous thing to believe a person is more than a person.”
This idea is at the center of John Green’s 2008 novel, “Paper Towns,” and it’s this idea that makes one of Green’s lesser-known novels his best work.
“Paper Towns” follows Quentin Jacobson, a born-and-bred Floridian about to finish his senior year of high school. Q, like most of us, likes his schedules and revels in the comfort of the everyday. That comfort tumbles out his window the night Margot Roth Spiegelman tumbles in.
Margot, Q’s next-door neighbor and childhood crush, is his antithesis in every way. Q likes routine; Margot yearns for adventure. Q is content in his Florida subdivision; Margot takes off for places unknown every few months. The two were friends in childhood, but grew apart and —by the time senior year rolls around — are almost strangers. By this point, Q has built Margot up to epic proportions in his mind.
As Q speculates, “Margot always loved mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.”
But the night Margot crawls through his bedroom window is only the beginning, and Q and Margot spend the next several hours on a bizarre adventure, righting wrongs and exacting revenge on their enemies. But as quickly as they come together, they fall apart when Margot disappears the next day. Although this seems like standard behavior for Margot, it becomes clear that this time, Margot isn’t coming back. The rest of the book follows Q and his friends as they search frantically for Margot while navigating senior year and graduation.
And that theme is what gives this book its power. “Paper Towns” is by far the most relatable of Green’s novels. Green tackles the delicate balance of growing up and the pull between hurtling toward change while desperately clinging to the familiar.
I first read “Paper Towns” during my junior year of high school. At this time, I was facing exactly the same dilemmas as Q and his friends. I was dying to get to college but afraid of leaving home. “Paper Towns” is, at its core, a novel about ordinary teens trying to figure out life and wanting all the answers but not necessarily having them. I remembered being very glad that I wasn’t the only one.
It’s hard to let go of the familiar, but Q tells readers, “It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” Remembering that lesson surprisingly made is so much easier for me to cross the stage at my own graduation and walk into the unknown.
Green has been a part of the young adult literature scene since his first novel, “Looking for Alaska,” took libraries and bookstores by storm in 2005. Now, Green is known for his 2012 hit, “The Fault in Our Stars.” According to the Internet at large, those are really his only two books worth reading. Even the response to the 2015 movie adaptation of “Paper Towns” seemed lukewarm compared to the hysteria and hype that surrounded the 2014 adaptation of “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Perhaps it’s because “Paper Towns” is the realest of Green’s books. Perhaps it’s because “Paper Towns” doesn’t have an epic romance or fairytale ending. Perhaps it’s because Green pokes at all the things we are afraid of, but never admit. He shakes up all the insecurities inside us and forces us to square with them.
But that is what makes this book so worthwhile. We don’t all end up with our high school sweethearts. We don’t all get a Disney ending or epic romance. Like Q and his friends, most of us stumble through adolescence just trying to get it right but often failing. Like Q and his friends, we rarely have all the answers. Green masterfully portrays the contradictions and beautiful confusion of life.
Fans of John Green shouldn’t be so quick to discount “Paper Towns” because it doesn’t have the hype of his other works. Even years later, “Paper Towns” remains one of my favorite books, and I revisit every few months like returning to an old friend.
“Paper Towns” might not have the star status, but in the ordinary paths of life, Green has created something extraordinary.