Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All my friends are so Paper Towns

Many thanks to the publicity department at Penguin Young Readers Group for sending me a copy of Paper Towns by John Green. Like all viewers of Brotherhood 2.0 nerdfighters, I've been anticipating this book for some time, and I'm pleased to say that it does not disappoint.

First, a little on my relationship with John Green's books. (I have no relationship with John Green; he doesn't even know I exist.) I was the one person in the world who didn't love Looking for Alaska. Sure, the writing was intelligent and literary and all, but I couldn't stand the Alaska character and therefore felt absolutely nothing when she died, could not sympathize with Miles at all. I enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines very much, however. I thought it was funny and sweet and you know I'm always up for a book where the geeky guy gets the girl. So when I heard Paper Towns was coming out, I was excited. I believe that John Green on his worst day is still better than many writers out there on their best.

Let me tell you: It's true about the third time being a charm. Green has absolutely knocked it out of the subdivision park with Paper Towns.

The plot: When Quentin Jacobsen was nine years old, he and his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, found a body in a park. Now it's almost graduation and over the years, Margo and Quentin have grown apart. Because of the distance in their relationship, Quentin is surprised when Margo employs him for a wild night of vengeful pranks on the people Quentin thought were her friends. Not long after, Margo disappears. Quentin is determined to find her. He follows what he believes are clues to her current residency, accompanied by a wacky yet completely lovable motley crew of friends. In one of the craziest road trips in YA literature, Quentin employs his friends, armed with nothing but a few sticks of gum, a BP credit card, and 211 bottles of beer, on a whirlwind road trip from Florida to upstate New York. What he finds...let's say it's everything and nothing he expects it to be. In just weeks, social statuses change, friendships and relationships dissolve, and Quentin learns Margo's song of herself.

Why you'll love it: Here's my favorite thing about Paper Towns, and what I have noticed is a theme in all of Green's works to date: The story is motivated by a character who is absent for more than fifty percent of the book. It really speaks to the influence the right person can have on our lives. The main character, Quentin, is really no one special on the outside. He likes boredom and routine, he's dated, he's basically your very average high school student. What sets Quentin apart and makes his story worth telling is his "miracle," his friendship with Margo Roth Spiegelman. Funny, I read an article not too long ago in...I should have bookmarked it because now I don't remember where...that talked about how our memories are much more unreliable than we think they are. With Margo, Green creates both old and new memories for Quentin, memories that don't always jibe with each other. And since Paper Towns is in first-person, we are left with only Quentin's view of Margo, a view colored by both recent and long-passed (and how well-remembered?) events. The peripheral characters sparkle and the turns of phrase are sublime, ranging from wickedly hilarious to heart-wrenching. This is a book that speaks to all of us who have ever remembered someone for better or worse, and who are always seeking connections to others.

Penguin's plans include "major early galley distribution," so keep an eye out for galleys at Book Expo and ALA. It's definitely worth picking up.

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