I have completed my mission to read all of John Green’s books, and I have discovered that my second-favorite book by him after TFIOS is Paper Towns. This exceptional novel further proves that 36-year-old Green is better than most at getting deep into the complicated, sensitive minds of teenagers, and telling their stories.
Paper Towns follows Quentin “Q” Jacobsen’s end-of-senior-year experiences, most of which revolve around Margo Roth Spiegelman. (He always refers to her with all three names.) Q and Margo are neighbors and were once childhood friends, separated by the cool and uncool crowds of middle and high school, but he has always admired her from afar and she has always protected him from afar. One night Margo literally needs a partner in crime, so she carefully selects Q to aid her in a series of 11 elaborate pranks on fellow seniors, mostly in retaliation for finding out her boyfriend has cheated on her with her best friend. Q and Margo truly and adorably reconnect during the night of elaborate pranking, causing Q to expect new things from their relationship at school the next day. But Margo doesn’t show up at school the next day. Or the next day, or any day after that.
It turns out Margo Roth Spiegelman has run away from home quite a few times, so often that her parents are sick of looking for her (they don’t sound like great parents) and the local detectives don’t put much effort into finding her. Ergo, Q takes up the search himself and, with the help of friends Ben and Radar, and eventually Margo’s friend Lacey, goes through Margo’s room, locker and entire life to try to decipher her hidden messages and sort-of clues as to where she has gone. The search takes over the last month of their last year of high school, overlapping with prom and parties and graduation some of their first times being drunk — a lot of moments that made me almost miss high school. (I said almost.) While searching for Margo and experiencing these teen milestones the crew really bonds, especially on some really awesome-sounding road trips, but they also discover sides of Margo they never realized existed. Finally finding Margo proves to be less of a heroic moment and more of an anti-climax, but John Green leaves that part a little open-ended. Which I usually don’t like, but in this case I can appreciate.