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John Green – Paper Towns

October 24, 2008

134. Paper Towns by John Green (2008)

Length: 307 pages

Genre: Young Adult

Started: 22 October 2008
Finished: 23 October 2008

Margo disappears;
Quentin must follow the clues.
Who is she, really?

The main character
spends most of the book missing.
Just read it, okay?

Summary: Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman? To Quentin Jacobson, she is the unattainable girl next door, the queen of high school, the girl that he’s secretly loved since they were children. She’s the girl who knocks on his window one night a few weeks before graduation, and drags him out on a spree of pranks and rule-breaking. She’s also the girl who disappears the next day, leaving behind a Margo-sized hole in Quentin’s life, and a series of clues that Quentin’s convinced are meant for him. But as he follows these clues, learning more about Margo in her absence than he ever knew in her presence, he becomes less and less sure about what – or who – he’s going to find. Because who is Margo Roth Spiegelman, anyways?

This book is being sold with two different covers. Before reading it, I liked the yellow "happy Margo" cover better; after finishing it, I think I prefer the blue "sad Margo" cover. Regardless, I also now get the point of having multiple covers.

Review: My first thought on closing this book was: “It’s not fair.” It’s not fair that John Green continues to put out book after wonderful book, not fair that his books can make me laugh and cry at the same time, not fair that he somehow seems to get real, actual teenagers and portray them so vividly and accurately when other authors seem to have forgotten what real teenager-dom is like. But, maybe more to the point, it is supremely not fair that these books are only coming out now, when I haven’t seen the inside of teenager-dom for a decade. Where these books when I was a few weeks from graduating? Where were the books that just got it then? And maybe it’s because I am All Growed Up now that I can see how real and how right Green’s books are, and maybe I’m only imagining “real teenager-dom”, as viewed through a nostalgic filter, but if I am, so what? Green’s books portray teenager-dom exactly the way that I remember it being, only with the humor and the heartbreak and the philosophical revelations that you think are yours alone amplified ever so slightly.

So, yes, Paper Towns is manifestly similar to Green’s earlier books, Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines – smart, nerdy, smart-alecky boy, accompanied by his smart, nerdy, smart-alecky friends, meets a girl who is rebellious and challenging and shakes him out of his comfortable little world. And you know what? I do not care. Similar though the characters may be, each book has a different story, different quirks, and ultimately, a different point. And while Paper Towns‘s message, about whether we really know the people we think we know, and how we build up constructs of other people in our heads that aren’t really them, was not really a revelation to me at this point in my life, I absolutely enjoyed every second of the ride to get there. I laughed, I pondered, I cried, and I got nostalgic for my high school friends and that feeling of invincible clarity that comes with being young. I didn’t like it quite as much as Looking for Alaska, and it’s more serious and a little darker than An Abundance of Katherines, but there’s really only a hair’s breadth to choose between them, and I think fans of any John Green’s books won’t be disappointed. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Highly recommended, to anyone who is or even vaguely remembers what it was like to be a teenager.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: John Green’s Website

Other Reviews: Presenting Lenore, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Musings of the Bookgoddess, Em’s Bookshelf, Liv’s Book Reviews
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.


  • p. 88: ““Yes, I was wondering if it would be possible for you to write a sestina about Margo Roth Spiegelman’s breasts?”” – a poem of six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy, originally without rhyme, in which each stanza repeats the end words of the lines of the first stanza, but in different order, the envoy using the six words again, three in the middle of the lines and three at the end.
  • p. 212: “I carried the matryoshka dolls into the guest bedroom, where Radar was carefully stashing Santas into a dresser.” – another term for Russian nesting dolls.
16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2008 12:39 am

    Oh my, I think it’s time I got around to reading my first John Green book. I hate being left out in the dark.

  2. October 24, 2008 8:30 am

    I think there is something to be said for authors that write in a pattern but manage to do something extra with it. Sometimes we need comfortable books.

    And I know exactly what you mean about missing the “invincible clarity that comes with being young” — I’ve been missing that a lot lately!

    Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

  3. October 24, 2008 8:39 am

    So glad you liked it! I need to read his other two, pronto.

  4. October 24, 2008 9:34 am

    Fantastic review, Nicki. I need to read this author.

    So, is Looking for Alaska your favorite?

    Also, what *is* the point of having the two different covers? I can see when books are sold in different countries, the appeal to different cultures, etc. What are your thoughts specific to this book?

  5. October 24, 2008 9:45 am

    Natasha – Definitely! They’re all quick reads, partly because they’re fast, and partly because you can’t bring yourself to put them down!

    Kim – The pattern might get old around about his tenth book, but for now, I’m totally willing to read more. I’d be interested to see if he can write “regular, slightly nerdy girl” as well as he can write “regular, slightly nerdy guy”, though.

    Lenore – For sure! I think I’d actually recommend Katherines then Alaska for you, instead of the other way around, since Katherines is lighter and a little less powerful than the other two, and might feel like a little of a let-down if you read it too soon after Alaska.

    Shana – Alaska is my favorite, yes, although I don’t know how much of that is bound up in the fact that it’s the one I read first. They’re really all excellent.

    I don’t know what the “official” explanation for the multiple covers is, but the way I see it, since the book focuses on how we’re different people in different situations, and we can never really see the “true” whole of someone else – the two covers are two faces of Margo, interpreted in different ways by different people, but neither one is the “real” Margo, and thus, neither one is the “right” cover.

    I think that’s a little abstract to be really successful from a publishing perspective (and I haven’t looked in the local bookstore to see if they’re stocking both), but conceptually it’s a cool idea and fits well with the book.

  6. October 24, 2008 11:00 am

    Hooray! I’m so glad it’s good. I read Looking for Alaska a couple of months ago and just finished An Abundance of Katherines. I agree that it’s not fair. I can’t believe how good he is at getting teenagers on the page without making them obnoxious. I’m currently on the waiting list at the library for this one, but I’m not sure I can wait!

  7. October 24, 2008 2:29 pm

    “Where these books when I was a few weeks from graduating? ”

    I know! As much as I adore his books now, I wish they had been around when I was a teenager. They’d have done me a world of good.

    Anyway…that waiting for the paperback thing I usually do? It’s so going to be forgotten about for this book. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  8. October 24, 2008 2:35 pm

    Jessica – I was lucky enough to nab the first spot on the library waiting list… hope it comes in for you soon!

    Nymeth – I got this from the library, since I too normally wait for paperbacks to own, but I might make an exception in this case (especially since I also already have Katherines in hardcover.)

  9. October 24, 2008 4:53 pm

    hey i’m a teenager i’m pretty sure i remember what it’s like haha :D i keep hearing about this book it’s going higher on my tbr list now :)

  10. October 24, 2008 5:48 pm

    Oh I cannot wait to read Paper Towns! I think the thing I enjoy most is that John Green seems to *get* how it feels to be a teen, I can relate from my own teen years and from my own kids who are in their teens now.

    Great review, it makes me want to read this one even more :)

  11. October 24, 2008 9:42 pm

    Have you read As Simple As Snow? I love it, and Paper Towns sounds very similar, so I’m thinking I’ll enjoy it too.

  12. October 25, 2008 8:41 am

    Lis – Well, when you get a chance to read it, you’ll have to come back and give us your “insider’s” perspective.

    Joanne – Have your kids read any John Green books? What do they think?

    Jessi – Hadn’t heard of it, but it’s on my BookMooch wishlist now!

  13. October 27, 2008 8:54 pm

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through Paper Towns. Perhaps the two covers will make more sense when I’m done, but I currently prefer the blue cover. Though it seems sad and thought-provoking overall, I am enjoying the humorous moments, such as the eyebrow and the night of many enthusiastic YESSSes.

  14. October 27, 2008 9:08 pm

    Charley – I think it was the beer sword that cracked me up the most during the night of many YESSSSes – it just seemed so much like exactly the kind of thing that seems like an excellent idea when you’re really drunk, and something I could totally see one of my friends having done when we were in high school.


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