Paper Towns
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Carolyn Shields

Soon to be a major motion picture!

I fell in love with John Green this past summer when I listened to The Fault in Our Stars as I drove back and forth from New Jersey (a 3.5 hour drive), crying behind the wheel at what I’ve dubbed, ‘The New Walk to Remember.’ I borrowed my old boyfriend’s signed copy just so I could properly cry when I read the last few pages in bed, alone in a state I didn’t want to be in. I promptly followed up with Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, and finished the summer with Paper Towns.

John Green gained popularity from his vlog, Brotherhood 2.0, one of the most popular online video projects in the world. After working for a few months as a chaplain in a children’s hospital, Green was inspired to write a novel on a teen undergoing a life threatening illness. Thus, arguably his most famous novel, The Fault in Our Stars was born, preceded by four other novels.  

However, Paper Towns is perhaps my favorite so far because there is a heavy dosage on the Present Moment & Seeing People as They Are, two themes that have been very consistent in my life as of late. Quentin Jacobsen, our average hero, lives a perfectly normal life and thoroughly enjoys the regularity of it. But one night an aged old crush, Margo, entices him to go out on an adventure.

And disappears the next day.

Quentin is determined to find her. He follows her absurd clues, and God help him, the major ones are in Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’ a poem in which Whitman writes a thousand different grass analogies in the cockiest manner possible, and is every English major’s bane of existence.  

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I digress.

But Quentin overlooks one thing in his quest for Margo, and this is not a spoiler: he only sees Margo in relation to himself. And we all make this mistake at one point or another. We forget that people are not exclusively our own, but more so, our interactions vary concerning who is the recipient. Quentin’s Margo is different than the school’s Margo, or her parent’s Margo. Your overprotective father is someone’s employee, your mother’s old anxious first date, and your grandfather’s pestering son. Your father may murder a man who wounds your heart, but may only break a guy’s arm who has wounded your best friend’s.

But more than that, Green inertly writes about the dangers of putting someone on a pedestal and idealizing them. When that someone is knocked down and we see the man as he is, it shakes us up. When we entertain this illusion, we prevent them from being truly human in the sense that when they err, we become disillusioned. We may become, as Quentin does, angry with the idealized version of them we had in our head and angry at ourselves.

Who is the real Margo? And, I believe Green wants us to ask, who is our own Margo?

Another theme Green explores in Paper Towns is the Present Moment. There is an obvious undercurrent rolling in this novel about accepting where we are now. It’s the final days of high school for Quentin, but all he can think about is finding Margo and a possible future with her—if she still has a future and is not only a past.

Margo says early on in the novel, “Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement. There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for planning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future, and so they spent more time thinking about it. About the future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future—you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.”

This is John Green at his best, stirring a cheerleading squad within us, silently rooting for his character to “Preach it,” and then abruptly cuts them off, leaving us with a rousing inquisitiveness and an unsatisfactory jaw drop. Green introduces these philosophies, but he wants us to develop them ourselves. He writes to evoke our curiosity at some of the biggest questions in life, drawing us in with his quirky plot lines which always parallels with a deeper meaning.

He wants us to ask why.