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Paper Towns Hardcover – October 16, 2008
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Green melds elements from his Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines— the impossibly sophisticated but unattainable girl, and a life-altering road trip—for another teen-pleasing read. Weeks before graduating from their Orlando-area high school, Quentin Jacobsen's childhood best friend, Margo, reappears in his life, specifically at his window, commanding him to take her on an all-night, score-settling spree. Quentin has loved Margo from not so afar (she lives next door), years after she ditched him for a cooler crowd. Just as suddenly, she disappears again, and the plot's considerable tension derives from Quentin's mission to find out if she's run away or committed suicide. Margo's parents, inured to her extreme behavior, wash their hands, but Quentin thinks she's left him a clue in a highlighted volume of Leaves of Grass. Q's sidekick, Radar, editor of a Wikipedia-like Web site, provides the most intelligent thinking and fuels many hilarious exchanges with Q. The title, which refers to unbuilt subdivisions and copyright trap towns that appear on maps but don't exist, unintentionally underscores the novel's weakness: both milquetoast Q and self-absorbed Margo are types, not fully dimensional characters. Readers who can get past that will enjoy the edgy journey and off-road thinking. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—Quentin Jacobsen, 17, has been in love with his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, for his entire life. A leader at their Central Florida high school, she has carefully cultivated her badass image. Quentin is one of the smart kids. His parents are therapists and he is, above all things, "goddamned well adjusted." He takes a rare risk when Margo appears at his window in the middle of the night. They drive around righting wrongs via her brilliant, elaborate pranks. Then she runs away (again). He slowly uncovers the depth of her unhappiness and the vast differences between the real and imagined Margo. Florida's heat and homogeneity as depicted here are vivid and awful. Green's prose is astounding—from hilarious, hyperintellectual trash talk and shtick, to complex philosophizing, to devastating observation and truths. He nails it—exactly how a thing feels, looks, affects—page after page. The mystery of Margo—her disappearance and her personhood—is fascinating, cleverly constructed, and profoundly moving. Green builds tension through both the twists of the active plot and the gravitas of the subject. He skirts the stock coming-of-age character arc—Quentin's eventual bravery is not the revelation. Instead, the teen thinks deeper and harder—about the beautiful and terrifying ways we can and cannot know those we love. Less-sophisticated readers may get lost in Quentin's copious transcendental ruminations—give Paper Towns to your sharpest teens.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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While I won’t divulge what the ending result of this story is, I will say that it hit me harder than a flying brick to the skull. It was painful to where it almost made me cry, but it was a necessary pain that conveyed the message of the story all too well. It shows how dangerous putting people high on a pedestal can be, especially when those “idols” fail to live up to your expectations. Lord knows I’ve had a lot of crushes in my lifetime and still have some today. I keep thinking these women are angels sent from the heavens to steal my heart away and make me eternally happy. And that’s why they say, “Never meet your idols, because they will disappoint you.” I spent the entire reading of this book thinking the best was going to happen and then I get a much-needed slap in the face. Thanks for that, John Green.
I also admire Mr. Green’s ability to incorporate preexisting pieces of literature into the clues of his mystery. The bulk of these clues rely heavily on a Walt Whitman poem called Song of Myself. The themes of death, rebirth, and burial create a deep sense of fear within Quentin that Margo might be dead. But then there’s another piece of literature that fits in perfectly as well: Moby Dick. Captain Ahab becomes so obsessed with finding this whale that it nearly kills him. It reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufresne expands the prison library and one of the books is The Count of Monte Cristo, a novel about breaking out of prison and getting revenge on those who locked him up. It’s a fascinating literary technique that has stood the test of time. After all, the classics never go out of style, right?
And then we have the theme of paper towns, phantom settlements with fake names that have no business being on official maps. After Margo takes Quentin with her on the revenge spree, she talks about Orlando being a paper town due to the lack of real people with real emotional substance. In other words, the citizens are too concerned with shallow values such as getting laid, buying things, and being better than everyone else. I’d want to go missing from a place like that if I could. Come to think of it, I did live in a “paper town” as Margo describes it. It was called Chehalis, Washington and it’s the town where I considered suicide for the first time in my life. It too was filled with people who walked around like zombies and stabbed each other in the backs. I left that place in 2001 and only came back in short bursts. One can’t help but think Margo has a good point, which is why it’s easy to fall in love with her even from many miles away.
Paper Towns is a book that transcends the young adult genre and is accessible to any age group. Lord knows there are older adults that will feel a sense of jaded nostalgia when they read about the activities going on in this novel. To those people, I say be thankful that you can leave your past behind and look forward to a better day. Be grateful for your newfound maturity so that you don’t make the same mistakes that Quentin Jacobsen makes in this novel. An extra credit grade goes to John Green for giving me the slap in the face that woke me up from the matrix.
In one respect I did think this book was superior to TFIOS: the dialog between the characters sounded a lot more feasible to me. There's something about the way Green does the dialog in this book that just sounds right. The teens in TFIOS sometimes sounded weirdly pretentious and overly adult, but in this book, I bought their interactions. Their conversations sounded like conversations, complete with run-ons and genuinely hilarious moments, in which characters concoct elaborate sentences just for the sake of amusing one another. Quentin is something of a pedant, but Margo points this out to him, and it goes a long way toward humanizing him.
The characters in general were well done--except for Margo. Because Q is so level-headed and focused on his future, I found it very difficult to imagine he would go to the lengths he goes to in order to try to unravel the mystery of what has become of Margo. The two have so little interaction for a stretch of nine whole years that I really couldn't buy into his sudden overwhelming obsession with her. Yes, he has always nursed a crush on her, but it didn't seem all that powerful to me. After all, he still managed to do really well in school and maintain a good relationship with his friends. Had Margo not left Orlando, I could have bought him falling under her spell after spending some more time with him, but it seemed to me that someone who seems as put together as him would have enjoyed his wild night with her and regretted her loss, but who would have accepted her flitting out of his life in the end.
And in saying I thought the characters were strong, this doesn't mean that I always found all of them likeable, but for me that was part of the book's attraction. Q was really obnoxious for a good stretch, getting angry with his friends for not being as obsessed with Margo as he was, and holding grudges because they dared to have other things going on in their lives. Yet I could also understand what it's like to be in that tunnel vision sort of state, and it made his character feel authentic to me. I was especially happy when Radar called him on his behavior as that made it even more clear that Q had failed to spot his own hypocrisy up to that point.
However, Margo was the exception to this rule for me. I found her entirely stock. There was nothing about her that made her all that interesting to me. I thought maybe she was experiencing some growth, as her behavior on prank night makes it seem like she's gaining some insight, but it didn't turn out that way in the end. She struck me as highly selfish, dramatic, and thoughtless. It's hard for me to imagine why anyone might find a person like this appealing, let alone why Q does. Many of Margo's problems seemed to me to be of her own making, that if she'd decided to eschew her phoniness she could have found more fulfillment. Instead, she effectively quits her problems by disappearing. It seems like the book tries to justify her disappearance by making her parents jerks, but that felt off to me. And were they really jerks? I would have liked the dynamic between Margo and her parents to have been more than one dimensional.
Plot-wise, I really enjoyed the psychological mystery feel to this book. I like books like this, where characters try to unravel the mysterious inner workings of the minds of other characters. It's the sort of thing that appeals to me, trying to imagine what spurs someone to behave the way they do. Though I did enjoy the road trip, my ardor for the book cooled a bit by that point, as the mystery of Margo's disappearance was inherently more interesting to me. To be honest, I think I'd have preferred the book to take a darker turn, as it seemed to be heading in that direction. I found the resolution kind of a letdown.
Ultimately, I feel ambivalent about this book. I enjoyed a lot of it while reading it, but in the end it didn't feel like a really good book to me. I think this may be because the events in this book didn't feel organic, and once I feel like things are happening in a book because the plot demands it, that book automatically loses something fundamental.
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