Book Review: Paper Towns

Last summer, I agreed to house/pet sit for one of my mom’s co-workers while she and her family went on a cruise. I had been doing this for years — they paid me, they were easy going and all it really consisted of was bringing in the mail, putting out the trash, watering some plants and feeding the dogs and cat. Nothing too difficult.

About a day or two towards the end, my computer’s charging cord died and I hadn’t yet purchased a new one. Also, I’d finished reading all the books I brought with me. The daughter had left a book downstairs where she’d finished it before rushing out of the door. I wanted to read, so I picked it up.

It was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

I’d heard of John Green, of course – I’d heard that teens were in love with this guy’s work; that he was some kind of Teenage Girl Whisperer. While I was no longer a teenage girl, I figured I’d give it a try.

I really liked it! It wasn’t high literature, but I enjoyed it.

Since I’d liked Hazel and Gus so much, I’d mentally made a note to read the rest of his work too.

I finally got around to that.

So I just finished Paper Towns yesterday.  I didn’t really like it.

I wanted so much to like it! It started out so well! But then, about half way, I wasn’t feeling it so much anymore. And then, somewhere around Q and the group driving through South Carolina, I really didn’t care for it. In some respects, I really sort of hated it.

Hazel and Gus in The Fault in Our Stars were pretentious. However, it was a sly, funny pretentiousness. There was something about them that made me want to keep reading, that made me smile at their pretentiousness. I felt more involved.

Paper Towns just didn’t do it for me. It felt pretentious for the sake of being pretentious. And Margo…

I hate Margo.

Margo is a completely and utterly ridiculous human being. She’s selfish and uncouth and there’s nothing, really that redeems her.

This bummed me out, as I was sort of liking her a bit during the first bit. Sort of. I felt that the way she took her revenge against Jase, Lacey and the other girl was juvenile and she really should have just talked to them. But still, she had some spunk, which should always be admired.

But…she’s ridiculous.

Part of this could be because we really just see Margo through Q’s eyes. But she’s ridiculous. Instead of handling things; instead of being an adult and facing things, she runs. She runs away.

I’m a big believer in reinventing yourself; in striking out on your own. But I also believe there’s a way to do this that doesn’t give your family and friends heart attacks when they have no clue where you are.

The “love” Q holds for Margo is so silly – it’s not real, actual love. It’s basically lust for an idealized version of a girl he knew when he was a child. It’s strange — Margo and Q played together quite a bit as children, but when we see them in high school, they haven’t been close for some time. They appear to have the sort of relationship where you say “Hey” in the halls at school. This is not a deep relationship.

Because this relationship isn’t deep and it’s really very, very on the surface, it’s hard to see why Margo’s disappearance effects Q so strongly. Well, I should rephrase that: you can see it because the author has put it on the page and you’re reading it. It’s simply hard to buy it as plausible.

Yes, Margo chose him as her companion for her Night of Revenge. And I suppose it’s true that wreaking havoc can bring people closer together. But Q’s utter devotion to Margo still just doesn’t ring true; particularly when he comes to the realization that he doesn’t know her at all.

I have some close friends who are essentially part of my family. They are the sort of people I’ll drive up the whole of the East Coast in a period of 24 hours for. Someone whom I haven’t really “talked” to in years and I admire from afar who just happened to indicate that they knew I was still alive recently? Not so much.

Q’s conception of Margo is, I think, what’s the hardest to swallow for me. Margo is SUCH a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This, obviously, isn’t Margo’s fault – it never is the Dream Girl’s fault. It’s always the male protagonist that paints her in that light; that shoehorns her into that role. It’s never the girl herself I have issues with, but rather what she represents.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is ridiculous. That’s first and foremost. She’s ridiculous. She’s always written as this quirky, free wheeling girl who quirks soley for the sake of quirk. And her entire reason for existing is to coax the male protagonist into a broader understanding of the freedom life can hold. That’s it. That’s literally all she does and is. She’s never a whole person or a true character. She’s as thin as paper.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Margo is paper thin since the novel’s name is Paper Towns. But I don’t think that was what was on John Green’s mind. There’s rarely any sort of sly hat tipping when it comes to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl – there’s never anything more to her. She’s solely there to lead our repressed male protagonist to the Promise Land of Feeling Free. I mean, I’m reading “Paper Towns” and all I’m seeing is Natalie Portman in “Garden State” and Kirsten Dunst in “Elizabethtown” – the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

We know don’t know anything about Margo – we know she’s got parents, a sister and a large record collection. Her relationship with her parents is volatile but I don’t really know why, other than her propensity for running away. Q’s parents mention that they’d run away if they were Margo, but we don’t  ever find out what’s so wrong with Margo’s family. Because, honestly, from where I was sitting, their exasperation with Margo was completely reasonable.

Paper Towns reads just like all those other films that deal with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: wish fulfillment for the male writer (or director).

I was going to continue and read An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska, but after Paper Towns, it’s a no-go. I’m not going through this again.