Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer Re-Reads: Paper Towns

We’ve already heard that hackeneyed maxim about the journey being the destination. I have encountered a lot of novels attempting to embed this saying to the roots of their very plotlines, but nothing really stands out in exemplifying its deep meaning in a new level…save John Green’s books.



Here’s the thing about Green’s novels: if you’ll zoom out, you can see the obviously formulaic patterns that serve as the backbone storylines. Geeky, quirky protagonists? Check. Funny, interesting sidekicks? Check. Attractive, enigmatic girl that our dweebish hero is so enamored with? Check. There are even road trips in almost all his books, and the main characters seem to be always looking for something/someone. Despite these dead ringers of story foundations, what still made me a Green fan (and further gave birth to my inner nerdfighter-ness) is that if you zoom in and zero in on the story carefully, you’ll realize that the novels are all different at the core. An Abundance of Katherine’s real ‘road trip’ isn’t the literal one, but the trip that Colin takes where he reaches at the end a realization that relationships cannot be mathematically predicted, and that he matters, maybe not to the whole world but always to the person who can be the whole world to him. The ‘trip’ in Looking for Alaska is Pudge’s pivotal turn in his coming-of-age journey, one that pops out in the middle of the book with an emotional and moral blow that rippled throughout the second half of the book. Paper Towns is a different beast entirely, and here’s why…

Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen has always been smitten by his childhood friend and classmate, the spunky and adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman. He has always loved her from afar until one night when she—dressed like a ninja—barges into his room to summon him to a revenge campaign. Just as Q thinks he is already seeing the real Margo up close, she disappears. Q thinks that Margo leaves clues for him, urging him down a disconnected path that may lead to where—or WHO—the real Margo is.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again: Green is adroit in juggling hilarity and poignancy. I’m already familiar with Green’s style, but the way he pulls off the ‘moving’ parts in this book is different. It has a similar feel to Looking for Alaska—only raised to the tenth power. At the surface, the story is telling you to find where Margo is when in fact the real mystery is finding her identity. It almost feels like a metaphorical, hardboiled crime fiction. Green leads the main character into a journey he will never forget, tagging along the readers with him. Through the labyrinthine set of clues ranging from paper metaphors and fragments of Whitman poetry to carefully selected music, Q unwittingly creates his own map to a destination he never planned—finding not Margo but finding himself instead. In many ways as pointed out by the book, Q is very similar to the hero of Moby Dick.

Paper Towns is divided in three parts (The Strings, The Grass, and The Vessel), all of which are accounts of journeys that reveal something about the characters. Aside from being driven by the characters, the story is also strongly propelled by the building blocks of deep thoughts and ideas that propped up the cliché-ish plot.
A story of obsession, friendship, romance, and life as a whole, Paper Towns is one of the most memorable bildungsroman for me. It’s my fourth time reading this, and still never ceases to move me.

Next re-read: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

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