May 18

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Paper Towns by John Green

After reading the Shambling Guide to New York City, I read Paper Towns. It has the same caveats: that I read it when I was recovering from surgery, in pain, and on narcotic painkillers. This may affect my review.

What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.

I enjoyed this book greatly. It has an interesting underlying message, which is about how we fail to see other people as being as complex as we ourselves are.  I loved that it’s a story about how many of the conventions of the romance genre are destructive to the people who believe they apply to real life, because they encourage us to see others in idealised, and therefore grossly oversimplified, ways. Although Paper Towns is, in some sense, a coming of age story, I imagine it has some crossover appeal.

I couldn’t help contrasting it with other teen romance novels. It’s so much wiser in its approach, and asks so much more from the reader, than the simple wish fulfilments found in so many other novels. I think its an excellent antidote for the wave of vampire romance that seems to have infected YA.

That being said, there are some thing people should be aware of when considering it as a reading choice.

  • I suppose if I were a couple of decades younger I’d be core demographic for this book. That is, I’m introspective, wordy, and nerdy, like the main character, so I’m hardly likely to say the book is bad.
  • It uses a poem from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as a key plot point, and that poem’s less familiar for this blog’s Australian reader than for Americans. It’s explicit enough that if you are unfamiliar with the poem Song of Myself you can pick through it, but I felt that there was an expectation that I’d be exploring anew something I knew, and for me that wasn’t the case.
  • It has a road trip in it, which is a sort of quintessentially American thing. I’m not sure I understood some of the underlying conventions of the road trip as a trope while reading that section.
  • I like books that go meta, but if you are one of those people who find it distracting, then be aware that there are times where the characters are intensely aware of the symbolic nature of their actions. Then again, you could argue that teenagers are like that, sometimes.