“Paper Towns” by John Green: breakneck-paced mystery and high school upheaval

John Green wrote “Paper Towns” in 2008, before #TFIOS blew up Tumblr, YouTube, and our hearts with @AnselElgort’s adorkable face. I finally picked “PT” up on Saturday afternoon, and just finished it this morning (Monday) at 5:11 AM. “Paper Towns” is not a love story. It’s about a boy named Q (Quentin, but no one calls him that) who’s lived next door for half his life to Margo Roth Spiegelman, his best friendships with Ben and Radar, and discovering who he is as he discovers who Margo is and is not. The book spans the characters’ last month of high school, and Green snapshots the social chaos of that time without being sentimental.

The first 26% of the book (thanks, Kindle) is a breakneck-paced adventure that takes place almost entirely in one night. At first, I thought Margo was going to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, like Natalie Portman’s character in “Garden State.” Thankfully, she turned out to not be that, and this book is really about Q, not Margo. Green captures all of the teenage awkwardness about sex and being smitten with someone — see when Q is checking out Margo and notes that “a lot of things were going pretty well” in that scene.

Ben, Radar, and Lacey steal every scene. The frictionless banter between Q, Ben, and Radar does remind one of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” but better. Ben is a gregarious motormouth with no filter, Radar is an understated genius who spends most of his waking moments editing Green’s version of Wikipedia, and Lacey is the gorgeous, cheerleader-esque party girl who surprises us with her non-superficiality. I admit, I pretty much fell in love with Lacey.

Green’s writing style is hilarious — there were actual laugh-out-loud moments, and the overall ratio of funny to not funny is way higher than I expected. The whole book, you have NO clue what happens next. It really does read like a mystery. It never lags, which is the greatest accomplishment in any book. We ride along with Q to creepy places and ridiculous house parties as he discovers there is more — and less — to Margo and his friends than he propped up. Everything about this ride is addictive.


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