For a long time I couldn't stand John Green books. John Green books were actually one of my 10 things I hate that everyone else loves. And I tried to like them, believe me, I did. Several times I started reading John Green books in bookstores but I always put them down again. Which was a shame because I love Hank and John Green. I am obsessed with their Youtube Channels and podcasts and with their awesomeness in general. I never before picked up Paper Towns though.
As I am currently working on a youth novel myself, I am always trying to learn from the best. John Green might not be the best, but he is the world's most famoust youth novelist of our time, so I just can't ignore his books if I want to make my own book successful too. Because Paper Towns is the book which had the most potential plot-wise I decided to give it a try.
And I get it now. I do. It's not that Paper Towns changed my life and that I want to quote every line of the book. In fact, I still think that the narrator's voice is a bit too cheesy at times. But I have to admit that it's a damn good book and that John Green really, really knows what he's doing.
The book starts with a countdown of crazy things to do in one night. Margo Roth Spiegelman convices the protagonist Quentin to come along to a wild night of revenge and randomness. In the beginning she announces that they will do 11 things in this night which instantly hooks the reader because obviously we can't wait to find out every one of these 11 crazy ideas. That's a perfect way to start a book. Also the first chapter manages to give the reader in a very short part a thorough idea of who Margo is. We really only meet her for an instance but nevertheless we feel like we know her.
The story continues with Quentin finding out the next morning that Margo disappeared. Slowly he begins to realize that the version of Margo he knew as well as the Margo who was popular and legandary at their High School is far away from the real Margo and he starts his quest to find the real Margo, as well as to find her actual body, dead or alive.
Of course it's pretty clear from the beginning to the end that Margo Roth Spiegelmann is a very eccentric, neurotic, and borderline person. But nevertheless she teaches us that we never know a person. Not really. Her character is perfectly developped. She has many layers but at the same time she's a simple plot device.
Because Paper Towns is actually the story of Quentin who also is on the quest to find himself, though he might not know it yet. He has two best friends, Ben and Radar, who are both funny and smart and kind and in their own way adorable. And as Paper Towns tells their last weeks of High School it is also a growing up story asking the question of what to do with one's life.
John Green takes an old theme of youth novels (High School graduation) and twists it. One of the things I liked best was that typical High School milestones like the prom or the actual graduation play almost no role in the book because Quentin attents neither of them. Life's more than that. Which is another excellent message John Green gets through: You don't have to follow the expected path of college, job, marriage, house, kids. You should find your own path, whatever that means. Maybe you want to do something else entirely, travel, rebel, be on the other side of society, - or maybe the conservative path is excactly what you want, and that's fine too.
Another thing I liked about the book is that it is at times very dark (f.e. when John Green leaves it open for Quentin and the reader wether Margo ran away or killed herself) but at the same time has wonderful light and hilarious chapters, like the roadtrip towards the end of the book, which is pure joy.
Paper Towns is funny and a pleasure read but it also brings across valuable lessons, which is exactly what a youth novel should do.