paper towns: a review.

I’ve always had somewhat of an admiration for Alexander Supertramp. I’ve craved travel in my life and the great outdoors and living free of material possessions. I could stare at the expanse of mountains and rivers endlessly and never get bored. And I think, sometimes, that my desire to explore, to travel, and my love of my friends and my family and the closeness of home are two conflicting emotions that have, in the end result, left me without any idea what I want to do with my life. Because if you asked me what my dream would be, for right now, it would be to pick up the city of Columbia and drop it in the middle of Italy.

Now, forget all that and follow me to a recent web post I found of a dramatic retelling of his first time at SoulCycle by John Jannuzzi. Jannuzzi, without a doubt, is my favorite tweeter. I feel like that compliment is in itself an [accidental] insult of sorts but I mean it in the kindest of ways. Primarily because his frankness makes me laugh out loud in the middle of the monotony of every day, but also for a lot of other reasons. Yes, Jannuzzi, I have a crush on you.

In his comical and dramatic (can I even use that word here when I don’t know about the actual physical pain of SoulCycle from personal experience?) retelling Jannuzzi tries to describe his first observations upon walking into this hip new wave of a cycling class that the likes of Columbia, South Carolina are probably never going to have by saying: “Everybody knows what they’re doing and they all seem to know each other. Immediately, I feel entirely inadequate. It’s high school all over again and high school sucked.”

Here’s where I try to correlate a spin class in New York City to a young adult book written by John Green about some high school kids in Florida.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people rave over The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and, seeing as though I have way too many books currently on my bookshelf that I haven’t read (case in point I finally tackled How to Kill a Rock Star after years of accumulating dust) I couldn’t justify purchasing another hardback book by an author I’ve never read. And, naturally, it isn’t yet available at the library. So in my attempt to AVOID Barnes & Noble I went online to the Richland County Library website and went to town, something I do once a week. Naturally, I requested every John Green book available and they’re slowly starting to trickle in as I just picked up An Abundance of Katherines today as I was returning Paper Towns.

So, Paper Towns. I don’t know that I’d qualify this book as Young Adult. Mostly because it referenced literature that, yeah, maybe I read some of in high school, but I didn’t do nearly the thinking that it calls upon Quentin and Margo to do when reading Walt Whitman. In fact, I’m pretty confident I never read Whitman in high school anyhow. Green also references Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot (among others).


Green tells a story about people, really. And how we see in them what and who we want to see and not necessarily who they are. As much as I argue that this book isn’t really written for young adults, I did find myself transported back to high school in many parts and it is that that evoked Jannuzzi’s line to my thoughts – high school sucked. And Margo Roth Spiegelman knows why.

Margo Roth Spiegelman was a girl who seemingly had it all by high school standards. The boyfriend, the popularity, the beauty. Even the boy next door with the crush on her. But what no one knew was that Margo wasn’t any of those things.

“That always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.”

I’d never heard of paper towns before but in his Author’s Note, Green explains that he first discovered paper towns when he was a junior in college and on a road trip in South Dakota. Paper towns are unfinished subdivisions and towns map makers invent in an effort to copyright their work. And Margo had somewhat of an obsession with paper towns so much so that it led Quentin and his friends on a chase to find her following her disappearance just before prom.

The night before her disappearance, Margo and Q go on an adventure for revenge. It culminates at one point to looking out over the city of Orlando from a top floor of the SunTrust building. From there, Margo observes:

“Here’s what’s beautiful about it: from here, you can’t see the rest of the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It’s not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It’s a paper town. I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those culs-de-sac, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.”

I feel like Green portrays two main themes in his book. The idea that we are all paper. We’re going to all be gone eventually so does it really matter when? To some we’re already disposable, just like paper, just like pseudodivisions. And Margo Roth Spiegelman already believes that’s what she is: “a paper town for a paper girl.” Her answer to this is to become like Alexander Supertramp and to disappear into the world.

The other theme Green wrestles with is how our selves are made up of a multitude of strings. At some point, all our strings will break. But sometimes, they break little by little, one by one.

“There are a thousand ways to look at it: maybe the strings break, or maybe our ships sink, or maybe we’re grass – our roots so interdependent that no one is dead as long as someone is alive. We don’t suffer from a shortage of metaphors, is what I mean. But you have to be careful which metaphor you choose, because it matters. If you choose the strings, then you’re imagining a world in which you can become irreperably broken. If you choose the grass, you’re saying that we are all infinitely interconnected, that we can use these root systems not only to understand one another but to become one another. The metaphors have implications. Do you know what I mean?

I found myself, while reading Paper Towns, wanting to go back and read some Whitman because I feel as though Quentin revealed so much throughout the book about the difference in the way we interpret poetry and literature and life, even. How in one breath, or even taken out of context, it can seem almost morbid or sad. But as a whole, when you read it or see the whole story or even understand the ending or the “why”, it can seem hopeful. It’s all in how you look at it.

Just the same, I imagine, as how it is with people. It’s all in how you look at them. I hated high school. I never felt like I fit in and I surely didn’t stand out. In many ways I just felt like people didn’t know me. Perhaps they thought they did, but I think they saw who they wanted to see rather than me. And John Green helps me understand that idea more clearly through Paper Towns.

“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”

Paper Towns has me itching to read more John Green even more so in the way it has made me think about the world since closing the book. But that does not deminish the thrill of a ride that existed between the covers.


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