Before getting started—please note that this is a review and as such I will be referencing the book extensively. In other words—yes! Spoilers there shall be!!
Now, let’s talk Paper Towns by John Green—a story that provides a truck load of metaphors via a coming of age story.
Margo Roth Spiegelman & Ben
To be perfectly honest I did pick this up given that there is so much hype around the movie, plus it’s written by one of my favorite authors so how could I resist. Now, after reading the story, I’m really hyped about watching the movie! The star studded cast does have a bit to do with it but more than anything I just love the characters. My personal favorite was Ben (a.k.a. ITWASAKIDNEYINFECTION). He’s just so cute, witty and honest. His lines are my fave, which I think says a little more about me than I’d like…maybe that I secretly wish I could be as honest as he…or maybe it means that I’ve been contemplating one of the book’s metaphors quite a lot…or maybe both.
Just to outline a few of my personal fave quotes from Ben:
· Chapter 13 (pg. 187) - Ben to Becca
“Your party kicked so much ass! Even though you suck so much! It’s like instead of blood, your heart pumps liquid suck! But thanks for the beer!”
· Chapter 14 (pg. 195) - Ben to Radar
“Radar, your failure to bop that lovely honeybunny is the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time.”
Margo Roth Spiegelman on the other hand…not so much. I love her name, but I found her to be incredibly selfish, especially towards her family, especially towards her little sister.
Yes, she’s thoughtful, undoubtedly brilliant, and an inspirational person but the idea of her choosing to uproot her life as a way of escaping her situation and not letting anyone know what she was up to really bothered me. For the majority of the book, I was under the impression that she had committed suicide, even though I found it unbelievable given how lively she was during the first part of the book. I found it challenging to accept it but I found it just as challenging to accept that this brilliant thoughtful woman would find it acceptable to leave without a trace—or rather by leaving behind a very convoluted trace.
Did anyone else feel this way? I think the reason I found her character not so likable is because I can relate. At 19 I left without any warning and made it a point of visiting very seldomly. I now realize that I caused my family a lot of heartache, especially my little sister. Once I was ready to come back she had a hard time letting me back in. It took a really long time for her to open up to me unlike my mom who has always been really forgiving of my faults. I used to call this my quarter life crisis as a way of making light of the situation, but honestly it was a really challenging time; one where I was trying to understand…things. I realize that she’s going through something similar I just wish she were a bit more considerate.
Set aside Margo causing grief to those that cared for her, I appreciated that she inspired Q, his friends and her friends to push beyond their comfort zones. If it weren’t for her plan, they would have had a mellow senior year without any adventure; Ben and Lacy wouldn’t have gone to prom; Q wouldn’t have gone exploring on his own. It wouldn’t have been the book that it is.
Mirrors & Windows Metaphor
As for a metaphor that really stood out to me it was the mirrors and windows metaphor presented by Q’s parents. It went something like this:
· Chapter 15 (pg. 198)
“The longer I do my job,” He said, “the more I realize that humans lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.”
…“But isn’t it also that on some fundamental level we find it difficult to understand that other people are human beings in the same way that we are? We idealize them as gods or dismiss them as animals.”
“True. Consciousness makes for poor windows, too. I don’t think I’d ever thought about it quite that way.”
The thing about what Q’s dad first notes is that we can’t always be the same person in every situation. It would be almost inappropriate to act at work the same way we do at home. We have to be a slightly different variation of ourselves. If we stray away too far, then it becomes really challenging to understand who we are, as well as how we feel and how to open up to others. As a result, it can also be really challenging for others to show us “how we look”—that’s my perspective anyway.
Now, his mom’s response is truly dear and near to my heart because I can completely relate and I think many of us can—“We idealize them [friends/family/acquaintances/famous celebrities] as gods or dismiss them as animals.” So true!!
While in high school and for the better part of my early twenties, I relished having a large group of friends, slowly but surely that’s changed and it largely has to do with my own expectations of “friends”. The thing is, the larger my circle of friends got the less they really got to know me given that time is scarce and you can’t really share too much of yourself with everyone…this goes both ways. The larger my group of friends got the less I really knew them hence when they’d open up, make a mistake I never anticipated from them, I’d slowly drift away from that relationship. Harsh of me, I know, but that was my coping mechanism. I try to not take this approach anymore as I’ve learned to be more forgiving of those I care for and as a result my circle of true friends has become significantly smaller. I like it that way as I am now able to devote more time to my existing relationships.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I deducted one stare given that I felt like the story dragged a bit at times and because I had a hard time with Margo’s character. Otherwise, I really loved this book. It is hilarious at times, and full of sweet memorable characters. It is a worthy read for readers of any age.
A Few More Memorable Quotes
· Prologue (pg 3) - Q
The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us…My miracle was this: out of all the houses in the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.
· Chapter 13 (pg. 183) - Q
Peeing is like a good book in that it is very, very hard to stop once you start
· Chapter 16 (pg. 201-202) - Radar, Ben & Q--first up, Radar.
”So I think she’s currently in, like, Omaha, Nebraska, visiting the world’s largest ball of stamps, or in Minnesota checking out the world’s largest ball of twine.”
With a glace in the rearview mirror, Ben said, “So you thin that Margo is on a national tour in search of various World’s Largest Balls?” radar nodded
“Well,” Ben went on, “someone should just tell her to come on home, because she can find the world’s largest balls right here in Orlando, Florida. They’re located in a special display case known as my scrotum.”
Radar laughed, and Ben continued. “I mean, seriously. My balls are so big that when you order French fries from McDonald’s, you can choose one of four sizes: small, medium, large, and my balls.”