Paper Towns, by John Green

papertownsThis was the last John Green novel I hadn’t yet read, and although both my kids would rate it fourth out of his four books (they love all four, but love this one least, apparently, though still better than most other books),  I found it kind of haunting and lovely. The narrator, Quentin, is awestruck by the beautiful, exciting Margo. When she finally notices him, it’s for one night of madcap hijinks before she suddenly disappears just a few months before high-school graduation. Quentin believes Margo has left a trail of clues that will enable him to find her, and enlists the help of his best friends to track her down. Along the way, he learns that the Margo he’s pursuing — the one in his head — doesn’t match the Margo that other people remember  — that, in fact, everybody has their own imaginary version of Margo. All this helps Quentin realize that the Margo he’s been admiring from afar is mostly a projection of his own imagination and desires; the real Margo was  a real person with her own needs and problems. Through a mystery that ends in a zany, race-against-the-clock road trip, the novel punctures the tendency of lonely teenaged boys to idealize unattainable girls — which is really just a version of the problem we all have of idealizing or demonizing others, turning them into characters in our own stories rather than getting to know them as real, flawed people. For Quentin, finding out that Margo is nothing more than a human being might even be more important than finding Margo herself — if he ever does. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he does.

From a “mom reading young-adult novels” perspective, I’ll point out that this novel, like most of John Green’s books, contains enough references to drinking and sexual activity to make it believable as a novel about older teenagers, but as is often the case in Green’s books, the characters through whose eyes we see the story tend to be the ones least likely to overindulge and to recognize the stupidity of others’ behavior when they’re doing so. Still, parents of younger teens like mine should be aware that these kids don’t live in an artificially sanitized world, and there will be teenage parties where everyone gets drunk — just like in real life.

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Filed under Fiction -- general, Young Adult

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