If you read John Green’s 2012 young adult novel “The Fault In Our Stars” or saw the film adaptation of it this summer, you may have also heard of John Green’s 2008 young adult novel “Paper Towns.” “Paper Towns” is an interesting book because, like John Green’s other books, it makes readers think about what they wouldn’t normally think about. It makes readers think about how their ideas of other people are reflections of themselves as much as they are reflections of the other people, and how seemingly perfect people are as imperfect as everyone else. People are not windows, but mirrors, and cracked mirrors at that. As Quentin “Q” Jacobsen from “Paper Towns” said, “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
In “Paper Towns,” the narrator, high school senior Quentin “Q” Jacobsen is obsessed with his adventurous neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q’s obsession begins as the plot does, when as nine-year-olds, he and Margo find a dead body and talk through Q’s open bedroom window about how “Maybe all the strings inside him broke.”
After nine years of growing apart from each other, Margo opens the figurative and literal window between them by climbing into Q’s bedroom just before midnight and calling him to an adventure of revenge. By following Margo, Q falls for her all over again. During the night, they look at their subdivision from the twenty-fifth floor of an office building and Margo tells Q that from where they are “You see how fake it all is. It’s not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It’s a paper town.” After staying up all night with Margo, Q can’t wait to see her again. But when he can’t find her at school, Q stops wondering when he will see Margo again and starts wondering if he will ever see her again.
Q begins a search for Margo with his friends; prom-obsessed Ben and online-encyclopedia-editing Radar, with only a poster of Woody Guthrie taped to Margo’s window shade as a clue. As the search lengthens in time and the clues increase in numbers, Q finds that every question that he asks about the Margo he knew leads only to more questions about the Margo he never knew.
“Paper Towns” is both different from and similar to “The Fault In Our Stars.” They are on opposite ends of the circle of life. “The Fault In Our Stars” is a novel that asks questions about how people die. As Hazel Grace Lancaster from “The Fault In Our Stars” said, “That’s part of what I like about the book in some ways. It portrays death truthfully. You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence.” “Paper Towns” is a novel that asks questions about how people live. As Margo Roth Spiegelman from “Paper Towns“ said, “As much as life can suck, it always beats the alternative.” Similarities will likely be even more evident in the upcoming film adaptation of “Paper Towns,” as it will be made by the same people who made “The Fault In Our Stars” and star Nat Wolff, who played Isaac in the same film, as Q.
John Green has said that he wrote “Paper Towns” as a deconstruction of his 2005 young adult novel “Looking For Alaska,” which is also about an ordinary boy and an extraordinary girl. I liked “Looking For Alaska” and I liked “Paper Towns” because, at first, it was similar to “Looking For Alaska”; an ordinary Florida boy who is obsessed with his extraordinary idea of a girl and is unable to separate his idea of her from the reality of her. “We imagine people as animals or gods. But she was just a person, a girl.” The difference between them is that while “Looking For Alaska” asks questions about understanding people, “Paper Towns” answers them as well as it can. Because sometimes, the answer is that people will never completely understand each other.
After you read this article, I would strongly recommend that you read “Paper Towns.” You can borrow it from the Central Library and the Champaign Public Library, and buy it from Barnes & Noble for $4.99 to $9.99.