We All Live in a Paper Town



John Green is obviously a very talented writer, however, I had only read one of his novels as of a week ago. But when you are aimlessly strolling Target on a Saturday night at 9:30 with your mom, you pick up a 30% off John Green book and place it in your basket along with a yoga shirt, some toothpaste and coffee ice cream because, you know, why not?

Now, as an avid reader I have connected with many characters before. Yet, no character has ever intrigued me as much as Margo Roth Spiegelman. I felt like I really understood her perspective on her hometown of Orlando. While I wasn’t prominent and rebellious in high school, I did share her sense of homelessness within her city. Part being a teenager, part knowing that the world is so big and I’d only seen a small sliver of it, I couldn’t wait to go to college and live somewhere else. Margo however, couldn’t wait for college.

While I found Margo and Quentin’s midnight escapade around Orlando to be entertaining, I did find it a bit unreasonable. I mean, can you really pull all that off without criminal charges? Probs not, but in terms of the storyline it was a perfect way for Margo to make her grand exit. I would not have done all those things like she did, but instead I would have stuck to a can of silly string and a few eggs. Maybe. That’s still pushing it. Womp.

I would have loved to learn more about why Q fell so deeply in love with Margo in the first place. Yes, them finding the dead guy when they were little was super important, but what happened after that? Why did they stop hanging out after they talked through Q’s window screen? Maybe I missed that info, but if they had always been neighbors why didn’t they exchange small talk every now and then? IDK man, idk.

What I did like: the supporting characters. Ben, Radar and Lacey. Who would have known by the end of the book those three would be the ones helping Q and driving to New York for Margo? Not me, that’s for sure. Ok, I could have seen Ben and Radar doing that, but certainly not Lacey. Especially after Margo and Q squished a dead fish under her car seats. She had no hard feelings after that? Hmm, guess not.

I did find the fact that Radar’s parents held the record for the most Black Santas pretty funny. Pretty random. And Ben was adorable, being obsessed with prom and all. It was also cute to read about him fitting in with the rest of the class at the party after prom (even though it involved a drunk Ben who was perceived as “hey that guy is pretty funny when you get to know him”). He seemed happy, but still wanted to share it with Q and Radar. I saw it as a big statement: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RICH TO FIT IN WITH THE “IN” CROWD IN HIGH SCHOOL!

What I also liked: the abandoned subdivisions and the almost in pieces mini mall. I don’t think unfinished neighborhoods, called “pseudovisions” in the novel, have had as much time in the spotlight as in this story. I thought Q was really onto something when he searched them all. Come on, who would ever pay more than an ounce of attention to those things that you only see as you are speeding down the highway? It makes sense that Margo would camp out there instead of…an abandoned mini mart. Blah, that place was creepy.

Q’s devotion to Margo and finding her was sweet and comforting. There is at least one person in the world who would miss you terribly enough to go find you if you decided to leave without explanation.

In the end I really enjoyed the book, even more than TFIOS. Shocking, I know right? I found the story so captivating and close to home. I felt like Margo. In a way, I understood why she didn’t want to be found, or go back. Once you leave, you realize how much is out in the world. You gain a sense of confidence, and you are suddenly an explorer. There is nothing you can’t do. You are stronger than you think. People aren’t as bad as you think they are. The world is your oyster, and you are the pearl.

So, in a way I think we all come from “paper towns” where everything seems so bland. Margo said to Q, “Here’s what’s not beautiful about it: from here, you can’t see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It’s not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It’s a paper town. I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those culs-de-sac, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.”

In our “paper town” hometowns we know the same people who work hard to impress each other. Our stings might slowly break in our “paper towns”. Once you go to somewhere that is different and 3D, we suddenly think we are in heaven, and our strings might get repaired. What we forget is that that new place is someone else’s paper town. There is nothing wrong with that though, it keeps us curious and adventurous. There is always something to learn about a different “paper town” in this paper world.

Now, if y’all will excuse me, I need to go look for Alaska.



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