Paper Towns

Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , | Posted on 8:28 AM

Rating: 4/5 stars

Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman? High school legend, escape artist, perpetual runaway, Avenging Angel of Suburbia...

Quentin Jacobsen (Q), high school senior, feels pretty content with his normal life. Being minivan-chauffeured into school (often late), hanging out with his friends in band, unwinding with video games and looking forward to college -- he may not be at the top of the social totem pole, but Q has a comfortable space and a reasonable plan for life (college, career, maybe kids).

Until one night Margo Roth Spiegelman, Q's childhood sweetheart and the untouchable, dazzling figure of his fantasies, shows up at his window.

Wearing black face paint.

With a list of Eleven Tasks to complete before sunrise -- and she wants his help.

She leads him on a mad caper through the night hours, in a merry whirlwind of minivans, blue spray paint, catfish, and lots of Vaseline. Q has never felt so alive; he has never felt so close to this impossible, fascinating girl.

The next day, Margo Roth Spiegelman disappears.

Q has to find her. But in the course of tracking her down, Q's sense of Margo increasingly unravels, and he begins to wonder who he's really chasing -- and why.

It seems like coming-of-age tales 'classically' consist of a movement from a sheltered, relatively ignorant childhood to the overwhelming complexities of the adult world. Paper Towns is a different sort of story, maybe set a little later on in the process -- there is no oasis of tranquil youth, only the pressures of being an overinformed teenager in a suburban cookie-cutter housing development. Green's main characters fiercely question -- the world around them, their place in society, their own aspirations and assumptions -- and while it doesn't ease the uncertainty, it's at least vastly superior to apathetic conformity. The book is impressive for being able to pull this off, creating characters who are engaged with the world without sounding insipidly idealistic or preachy, and a major part of that is how sympathetic Green makes them, especially through some excellent humor. Also magnificent is how they are all complete people; some play larger roles than others, but no one is reduced to cardboard for the sake of emotional scenery.

Q is smart and sardonic and slightly terrified much of the time, and it's wonderful to come with him on his quest, his private investigation into The Life and Times of Margo Roth Spiegelman. He doesn't know what the hell he's doing, most of the time -- which is the perfect expression of not only teenagedom but life overall, as Q increasingly realizes. You can get so caught up in Q's point of view that even the more 'cliched' revelations avoid triteness, and the plot is a beautifully absorbing mix of character-driven drama and whodunit mystery.

Not a book to skim, by any means; this is a pretty complex work for YA, with some refreshing new twists in looking at the world. It's definitely possible to overhype this novel, but as long as you don't expect anything to completely explode your mind, this is a scintillating read about finding out who you really are, what you need in life, and what to do about that beer-can sword superglued to your hand.

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