Publication date: 15th May 2015 (First Edition 16th October 2008)
Published by: Penguin Books
Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows.
After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.
Caution: This review contains potential spoilers.
Paper Towns is the second novel by John Green that I have read - the first being 'Looking for Alaska'. I have not yet read the more well-known 'The Fault in Our Stars' but the success of that book and the subsequent movie led to the making of the movie and the 2015 published edition of Paper Towns (see cover).
John Green is a magnificent writer and I really loved this book. I found the inspiration behind the book to be an interesting one. Paper Towns are exactly that: non-existent towns that have been added to maps in order to identify copyright infringement. Like an artist's initials on a painting, it is how cartogrphers know if their work has been reproduced by someone else.
The story is a coming-of-age one. Quentin is in his senior year at high school and there are only a few weeks left until graduation. It is a time when teenagers are concerned with finals, prom and graduation. Unlike his friends, Ben and Radar, Q is not so concerned about any of the above. His raison d'etre is to love (and preferably to be loved by) Margot Roth Spiegelman.
What I loved about it.
Margot lives in the house opposite Q's and they have known each other since they were toddlers. They were best friends as small children but drifted apart at the age of 9. This is revealed in the prologue and there is a line that reveals a lot about Q, about Margot, about their relationship and why they drifted apart. "I took two steps backward. ...As I took those two steps back, Margot took two equally small steps forward."
Chapter 1, the first line - 'The longest day of my life began tardily', is the kind that is so memorable and telling that I can see myself quoting it for years to come. It told me that Q was about to share an adventure with me. It is the sort of line that instantly sparks one's interest and raises hope of a good read. This would have been a problem if it did not live up to expectation - but it did. There is a passage on the final page that I found equally 'attention-grabbing'.
What I got from the novel was a story about first love and this is addressed from two angles.
- Being in love with an idea of a person, rather than the actual person. Q has become a mere acquaintance with Margot and he hardly knows her, so he has had to settle with loving his 'idea' of who she is.
- The unfortunate state of being in love without actually realising it, due to youth, inexperience and not being the sort of person who is remotely interested in the concept. I see this as Margot's predicament. (I have compared her to Lucia Honeychurch in A Room with a View.)
What I took issue with
To avoid repetition see paragraph 2, below.
The book vs the movie
I did not enjoy the movie. Unfortunately, the story has been stripped of its vital organs, starting with the heart, and picked apart until only the skeleton is left. Those vital parts have then been replaced with artificial substitutes, aimed a simplifying the plot and ensuring a Hollywood-type ending.
It was not all bad though, as the movie did give Angela (Radar's girlfriend} a personality and a prominent role. There are a few scenes added with just the two of them, which removed their token-like status in the book. Also, the way the relationship between Ben and Lacey plays out in the movie is more realistic than in the book. Finally, although Radar's parents' unique hobby provides comedy value in the book, it was also believable in the movie because a feasible explanation for it is provided .