Quentin (Q) has always had a crush on his next door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. She is way out of his league, so he settles for admiring her from afar. Then, one night she invites him along on a midnight crusade for revenge. After one night of pulling pranks, she is gone. Q is determined to find her and with the help of his friends, he searches for the clues she has left behind. As he tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to Margo, Q learns more about her (and himself) that he thought possible.
There are many similarities between Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. The dynamic between the two characters is almost identical–an impossibly beautiful, smart, and funny girl and the average boy who pines for her. However, in Paper Towns, the author explores the concept of how we imagine other people. Paper Towns has been criticized for its one-dimensional characters, but Margo is intended to be one-dimensional at first. With Q for a narrator, the reader only gets his perspective which is clouded by his infatuation with Margo (Green, n.d., Questions). As Q finds the clues Margo left behind, he begins to learn more about her private self vs. the public self everyone knew at school. Green uses this process of discovery to raise questions about the self. A person’s public persona is often very different from how she acts when she’s alone. Which of these personas is more genuine? Can there be only one true persona?
Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass plays a central role in this book and it is often taught in schools in conjunction with Paper Towns. Whitman’s quote “I contain multitudes” illustrates Green’s message that people are multifaceted and whole (Green, n.d., Questions).
Paper Towns works on a number of levels. As mentioned above, it is a wonderful introduction to the concept of the self and how our view of others defines who we are. Quentin is in love with Margo, but how much does he really know about her? What does Q’s view of his dream girl say about himself? Green says that Margo’s last name (Spiegelman) “means ‘mirror-maker’ in German…Margo functions as a mirror to other characters in the novel. What they see when they look at Margo ends up a lot more about them than it says about Margo herself.” (Green, n.d., Questions).
Secondly, it’s a great mystery. Green won the Edgar Award for Paper Towns in 2009. The story slowly unfolds and the reader learns about Margo right along with Q, who thought he knew her very well. To determine the meaning of the clues, Q must try to think like Margo. As he gets better at looking at things from her perspective, he begins to form a more complete idea of her complexity.
Thirdly, it has teen appeal. The mystery structures the story and keeps it from getting bogged down in philosophy. Q might be quietly pining away for the girl who barely knows he exists, but his friends Radar and Ben have big personalities and provide comic relief throughout the book. The characters pull a series of midnight pranks and go on a marathon roadtrip, activities that would certainly hold a teen reader’s interest. There is an element of improbability to the story–Margo’s character is outlandish and “larger than life” and the characters engage in activities, such as breaking into a theme park at night, which might seem unlikely, but not impossible. Much like An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns does not portray anything that is literally impossible, and therefore the book balances on the edge of what is believable. Paper Towns reads like someone recounting their favorite, crazy memories from high school.
Book Pairing Idea
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Although these two books are vastly different in terms of genre, setting, and plot, they both explore what it means to be human and how we perceive each other, especially in relationships. Discussed as a pair, these two books would create very interesting discussions.
Green, J. (2008). Paper Towns [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Green, J. (n.d.). Questions about Paper Towns (SPOILERS!). In John Green: New York Times Bestselling Author. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from http://johngreenbooks.com/pt-questions/.