Let's go back to March 2012. I bought The Fault in Our Stars, which had been getting rave reviews, causing me to make a fool of myself in public by jumping up and down in my local bookshop when I discovered I was holding a signed copy. (Don't worry, they're more than used to my behaviour by now.)
I read it in the space of two days, and promptly had a crying fit so hard that I could have flooded the area where I live. Which is atop a very steep hill. (This sob-fest was unparalleled until I finished Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, during which I fell asleep crying, then woke up to find my head resting on a very soggy pillow, and a hollow, empty feeling deep down inside that made me want to have a crying fit all over again.)
But enough about me blubbering over books. Let's go back to blathering on about them, shall we?In July, I found that my five-county library service stocked three John Green books. Huzzah! I'd just have to wait for them to come in, and slowly wade my way through them as they trickled into my home away from home (and funnily enough, my workplace).
The first book I received was Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which was a very cute story about two boys who share the same name, and wind up meeting each other, finding love, and putting on a musical. The story itself was quite sincerely told, but it didn't strike the right chord for me, hence why I'd give it 3.5/5 at best.
Then I moved on to Looking for Alaska about a month later, and this one, I thoroughly enjoyed. It made me think, the love story was quite sweet, and I really loved Alaska as a character. She may have been a bit self-centred, but she was at least fun to read. This one got 5/5.
Now, for the final one that arrived, wrapped in an old envelope and rubber band with my surname scrawled on it - Paper Towns. I'd heard lots of good things about this novel, and even though I was more aware of John Green's penchant for using Manic Pixie Dream Girls in his books, I thought Alaska was at least done well in Looking For Alaska, as was Augustus (a rare male example) in The Fault in Our Stars. So, let's stop dithering and take a look at Paper Towns.
It is around this point I should mention that when reading, my mind should not be wandering off and creating a drinking game for the John Green books I have read. The rules will be revealed at the end of this review. Wink wink.
Paper Towns certainly had me hooked within the first ten pages, which consists of a childhood flashback to our two main characters, Quentin and Margo, discovering a corpse in their local park. We then jump into a time skip (though preferably not the dumpster kind), where Margo and Quentin are at high school. Quentin is a band geek, and Margo flits around the popular kids, but happens to have a touch of eccentricity about her. She runs away from home, plays pranks, and likes leaving riddles whenever she goes off on one of her escapades.
So, imagine Quentin's confusion when Margo enlists him and the use of his driving skills to play a series of pranks on the kids in the popular crowd. This takes up about... 70 to 80 pages, and it's a genuinely fun read, but where this novel really failed for me, was where Margo was suddenly taken out of the picture. I never quite clicked with Quentin or his friends, and so the investigation portion fell really flat for me.
Margo also felt a lot like a plot device at certain points, rather than a character with a fleshed out personality. “Hey guys, she's gorgeous, eccentric, and has a talent for epic pranks, but now she's missing and we have to search for her, I guess.” Every little new discovery did nothing for me, and I saw the blatant symbolic comparison between Moby Dick and Quentin's search for his own particular white whale way before he went: “Oh my god you guys, the pieces just completely clicked together for me just now.”
It has its funny moments, like in every John Green novel I've read (the line: “Because nobody can catch the motherfucking fox,” as a character's reason for wearing a fox hat had me in stitches when reading Looking for Alaska), but they were quite sparse.
So, with all this negativity I have spewed thus far about Paper Towns (and certain other John Green books I didn't enjoy), are there any good parts to Paper Towns? Well, there is that 70 or so page romp through the suburbs, playing pranks that become sillier and sillier as the night draws on, and the ending actually nicely subverts the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Yes, Margo is actually revealed to be not as batty as rumour would have it, and her MPDG-ness is all just embellishments tacked onto her by school friends and Quentin's own delusions about how cool Margo is. It is to that, I truly doff my cap. It's also nice how it ended up relating to the title, even if the literal explanations of 'paper towns'/'copyright traps' (the idea that cartographers would add fake towns onto their maps so they'd know if another mapmaker had copied them) was rather weak.
I also found that the author did accurately capture post-exam, between high school/college and university anxiety, especially when Margo essentially dresses down the whole concept of going to school so you can go to university so you can have a good job so you have support having children or a lavish lifestyle so you can retire and pass on your legacy. Margo thankfully became more likeable towards the end.
Although the second act of the novel would sometimes trudge through the investigation into Margo's disappearance like a tortoise with wads of chewed up bubblegum on its feet, the ending does have a satisfying pay-off, and I would implore readers to give it a chance beyond the “ugh, god, another John Green novel with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and a boring male lead.” 3.5/5.
Now, as promised, here is the patented John Green drinking game. ;)TAKE A DRINK/SHOT/SIP/WHICHEVER YOU PREFER EVERY TIME...
1. The words 'bro', 'awesome', 'dude', or Internet vernacular come up.
2. There is a reference to classical literature or poetry.
3. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy does something, well, manic. (Bonus sip if the characters figure out s/he has left clues after his/her disappearance.)
4. Indie bands, whether real or made up for the novel, are referenced.
5. Not just indie bands, actually – any kind of older music.
6. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy isn't actually around for much of the novel, but his/her presence is felt by the characters even after s/he's gone.
7. Our main character is an awkward teenage boy.
8. Our main character is a miserable teenage boy.
9. Our main character's friends are also dumb teenage boys, one of whom is a regular Casanova, and the other is a support crutch.
10. Instant messaging is used.
11. Things are listed like this: a) I was awkward, b) she was beautiful and clever and smart and funny, c) I had no chance in hell with her, d) she was probably going out with somebody else, even if she thought s/he was too mainstream for her.
(Also, the drinking game is always open to suggestion. Have fun, though I am in no way liable for any alcohol-related injuries or illnesses if you so choose to play this drinking game whilst reading all of John Green's novels in one go. Just saying.)