When it comes to John Green I’m that one awkward person who’s arrived late to the party. Several years ago when he first began publishing novels I remember being utterly bemused by who this guy was and why his books were so popular, since I knew nothing of his prominence among the YouTube community. I still know very little, but I have recently become far more interested in reading some of his work, if only to understand what all the hype is about. I know, I know, I’m so slow! But now at least I have the advantage of reading whichever of his books I like whenever I like, so cut me some slack, okay?
Paper Towns is my second John Green book. I began with The Fault In Our Stars because at the time, talk of the movie was everywhere and it was the easiest to lay my hands on. I liked it, and I turned to friends for recommendations on which of his novels to read next. The most positive response I got was for this story in particular, and I wasn’t disappointed.
One of my favourite aspects of this book was definitely Margo’s disappearance. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and although the fact that Margo goes missing is revealed in the blurb, at the time it never occurred to me that trying to find her would be so integral to the plot. It was a really nice surprise.
I also really love the way this book is structured; it makes for a really interesting narrative that continuously motivates you to read on. The story kicks off with a superbly gripping prologue that delivers the shock factor straight away, and portrays very clearly some of the central themes and relationships that will be explored as the plot progresses.
Moving on to the main bulk of the text, I found that the real highlight was ‘Part One’ – I think I may even be willing to use the word ‘brilliant’. I’m not a very rebellious person at all (just ask my friends!) but Paper Towns really did bring out my rebellious streak. Elaborate revenge schemes in the dead of night, plus a reluctant getaway driver dragged around the neighbourhood to participate in wild plans for vengeance that may or may not be illegal, equals an exciting adventure for both characters and readers alike! ‘Part Three’ was especially good fun to read; Green’s choice to switch tactics and divide this bit of the story up through hourly increments worked beautifully for keeping the pace fast and driving the story forward. I just wanted to drive off into the sunset on a spontaneous road trip and do something completely out of character that I’ll remember forever.
Now for the ending. In homage to John Green I will use a metaphor to convey my thoughts here. Let’s call it a ‘marmite’ ending: you’ll either love it or hate it. I’ve seen some mixed opinions on the final few pages of this novel, but personally, I thought it was a fitting conclusion. It isn’t at all what I was expecting – let’s just say it’s not your typical ‘sacrifice-everything-for-love’ moment that most YA novels like to use – it was super refreshing and it worked.
Unfortunately, ‘Part Two’ of this story noticeably lagged in the middle. What began as a firecracker sadly fizzled out somewhat, because while there were places where it was able to maintain the suspense of earlier chapters, it did fail to match the beginning and the end when it came to pacing. A short way in it seriously began to drag; all the emphasis on prom and graduation became monotonous and repetitive purely because it was so drawn out, and it failed to culminate in anything significant. Perhaps because the story started on such a high, it was inevitable that the middle would leave me feeling a touch disappointed.
This next criticism comes second-hand, but I felt the need to include it here because it’s something that seems to be brought up time and again by readers of Green’s books. It would seem that his early work is incredibly formulaic; regular, sensible boy falls in love with troubled, adventurous girl who may or may not feel the same way about him. I would be interested to read Looking For Alaska to see how accurate this is.
After careful consideration, I decided I would give Paper Towns three and a half out of five stars. I thought the concept of ‘paper towns’ was fascinating, and the ways in which the idea was incorporated (both literally and metaphorically) into the novel was impressive. All of the characters were unique and had distinctive personalities, though I particularly felt for Lacey, who I actually found to be the most layered, complex and well-rounded of the group. (Side note: contrary to popular opinion, Ben was not my favourite character. Shocking right? Maybe it was his endless use of the term ‘honeybunny’.) The speech between our main group of friends was hilarious and their interactions within those pages were fantastically written. It was an enjoyable read, without a doubt.
Paper Towns is one of those rare books that make you wish you had the guts to do something out of your comfort zone, and it makes you think differently about things you’ve never questioned before.