Surely it comes as no surprise that I’m a member of a book group called “Adults Reading Kids’ Stuff.” A school librarian founded it, so none of us are shocked that she’s always recommending award-winning literature.
At her urging, I accepted a library copy of Paper Towns by John Green. I’ve read some other Edgar Award winners (which this book is) and have been duly unimpressed. You can read about my take on a not-so-worthy Pulitzer Prize winner here.
Our book group, ARKS, met on Friday morning for a brunch and book talk. Pairing breakfast casserole, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and succulent watermelon with books is a no-lose proposition.
Most people recognize John Green’s name. I heard him mentioned often at the Willamette Writer’s Conference in August. He shot from nowhere to best-seller. One of his best-selling books, The Fault in our Stars, wowed Time Magazine into name it best fiction book of the year and Hollywood into bringing it alive on the big screen.
I love titles with double entendre. You know, simple titles like The Help that really explain something significant about the book – with a double edge. So, Paper Towns jumped out at me as a title that might prove to be such.
“Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life–dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge–he follows.
After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues–and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.”
The Edgar Award it won was for mystery, which the book includes. Even with the first person narration, Green offers up clues and hints for the diligent and observant reader.
There was a point in the book when I actually stopped and said aloud (to no one since I was alone) “If she is dead, I’m going to throw this book.” I don’t recommend throwing books. Especially not library books. But perhaps you see how wrapped in the plot I had become.
This story is as much about Quentin’s search for understanding himself as finding the girl he loves. It even gives a teenage attempt at explaining love. It is this “coming of age” aspect of the story that makes it accessible for a wider audience than the young adults it was written for.
Amidst all the quirky dialogue and friendly banter that felt too much like being a fly on the wall in my sons’ bedrooms, Green writes some memorable lines.
For example: “”They’d given me a minivan. They could have picked any car, and they picked a minivan. A minivan. O God of Vehicular Justice, why dost thou mock me? Minivan, you albatross around my neck! You mark of Cain! You wretched beast of high ceilings and few horsepower.”
Within that single paragraph, Green alludes to two separate works of literature while staying true to his character’s voice. I smiled when I read it, and then reread it, once aloud, just to appreciate the poetry of the prose and the power of the metaphors.
All was not bliss for me in this reading. For example, I found the character of Q’s affection, Margo, to be highly inconsistent. Her reactions in several scenes later in the book didn’t ring true for me. In fact, for a few moments I almost wished the author had offed her. I know, not my typical reaction at all.
Even in this, Green shows his control over the elements of an effective story. He was able to bring the story to a satisfactory resolution, one I wouldn’t have normally embraced. Because of Margo’s outlandish behavior, I happily accepted the not-so-happily-ever-after wrap up.
Everyone aged 14 to 99 should read this book. I said something similar about The Book Thief. I don’t say it all that often about novels, probably because I read genre fiction. Most of that has a flavor only certain connoisseurs relish.
Maybe this book is considered literary fiction. I don’t know how a young adult novel would get that distinction. However, this book has many literary qualities, including allusions to epic American literature, like Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Have you read other books by this author? What recommendations would you make?