Friday, January 21, 2011

Paper Towns by John Green

3 out of 5 stars.

Initially I'm not sure what to say about this book. I liked it. Enjoyed every second of its reading. But I guess I am turning into some kind of picky snob or something because in spite of that I only gave it 3 stars.

I first heard of John Green when he and his brother Hank were doing the Brotherhood 2.0 vlogging shindig. While never a hardcore nerdfighter I watched a handful of the videos and they seem to be pretty entertaining guys. So when I went to Borders to pick up a few other books and I saw Paper Towns in the bargain section just before you exit I snatched it up.

Paper Towns tells the story of a kid following his recently runaway lifelong-crush's clues around suburban Florida. Or at least that's what he thinks he's doing. It's really well executed in terms of structure and pacing. First he goes on an adventure with the girl, then she vanishes and he finds all her clues, then once he has prepared himself goes off to find her. And those three stages mark the changes in emotional intensity as well. The kid gets more and more depressed wondering what has happened to the girl and wondering exactly what her motives are in leaving. So I hope you understand that John Green does a wonderful job of writing and that's not why I docked stars.

The kid and his companions are basically a handful of ordinary high-school kids with certain features exaggerated. That isn't a problem, it's basically a description of every character we're intended to relate to at all: "exaggerated normal". I guess what rubbed me the wrong way in the characters was that their exaggerations were "funny" instead of "interesting". What this is probably better evidence of is that I'm not the intended audience.

I feel like the prime cause for my enjoyment of reading fiction is the sense of shared imagination. In the reading of a book the author's imagination merges with mine and creates a new, unique world, that only he/she and I share. So when I am critiquing a book what I'm talking about is how compatible our imaginations are and also about the end results of our "collaboration". Therefore whenever I dislike a book it's partially a failure of my own imagination-power.

But I am blaming this one on Green. All it really comes down to is that imaginings about high schoolers going urbexing isn't really the most interesting thing for me. I don't have to imagine urbexing in high school because in high school I went urbexing for real. I don't have to imagine someone being so devoted to an online anyone-can-edit encyclopedia because that's basically me my freshman year of college. So basically what I'm saying is that the character traits making these people interesting aren't interesting enough. Told you I was a snob.

Then there's the girl. It was really interesting how the picture of her in the characters' heads changed throughout the book, but that's through their eyes. Through mine she was just doing "random" stuff and being "random" as some kind of weird facade of interestingness. I guess I am kind of talking about this xkcd strip but it is way more harsh than what I mean.

Anyway the girl came across as just some kind of fantasy. I guess that was what was intended--for us to get inside the kid's head and see this girl the way he sees her. Unfortunately I find the way that high schoolers think about girls to be really unrealistic and foolish. I guess there was a potential for me to learn something from it but I failed to do so.

It's possible that I just don't really like YA. I haven't read very much of it.

I hope my cynical disposition doesn't shy you away from this book actually. I sincerely enjoyed every word, if you just take it all in as lighthearted fun without looking too deeply or trying to psychoanalyze the characters.


  1. I think saying the characters weren't interesting is a valid critique. You need to be invested in the characters to care about them and the outcome of the book.

  2. I enjoyed the book, as I do for every novel John Green writes.

    However, I feel that Miles and Colin and Quentin are the same person. It bores me.