Let me start by stating my unpopular opinion: I didn’t find the The Fault in Our Stars life-changing. I laughed at its funny lines, adored Augustus Waters, and got a little teary at the end, but overall, I found it totally unrealistic (how many people do you know who immediately name ‘oblivion’ as their greatest fear?), and little bit pretentious. I’ve read better romance books, better young adult books, and better John Green books.
One such John Green book, one I can endorse much more enthusiastically, is Paper Towns. The novel opens on young Quentin “Q” Jacobsen and his dazzling neighbor, Margot Roth Spiegelman, with whom Q is already smitten with, exploring beyond the boundaries of their street in their subdivision. They wander into an unfinished area, and discover the body of a man who has committed suicide. Quentin backs away in horror; Margot steps forward, morbidly curious. Q drags her home, where they call the police, and that night is the last time Q and Margot hang out for nearly ten years.
In his senior year, Q is woken up in the middle of the night by Margot at his window, decked out all in black, with black paint on her face. She recruits Quentin to help her exact her revenge on her boyfriend Jace, who has cheated on her; the girl he was cheating with; her ex-best friend, Lacey, who Margot has decided was never her friend at all; and one person Q is allowed to choose, for his troubles. Q is a quiet honors student, who never does all the incredible, illegal things Margot is proposing, but he follows Margot as always, and spends an insane night with her, returning home just as he is supposed to be getting up for school.
Quentin hopes that maybe this is a watershed moment, and Margot will start to acknowledge his existence again. He’s disappointed she’s not at school that day, and gradually starts to worry as more time passes without anyone seeing her. After three days, Margot’s parents file a missing person’s report, but are apathetic; Margot has run away so many times, they’re positive she’ll just turn up sooner or later. Q remembers the wild way Margot had acted the night before, and isn’t so sure. The police investigation is lackluster, so Q starts his own, with the help of his friends Ben and Radar, and a fearful, repentant Lacey. Q stumbles on the kind of cryptic, subtle clues only Margot could leave, and begins once again to try and unravel the mystery of Margot Roth Spiegelman. The more he discovers, the less he’s convinced he knows who Margot is, whether she wants to be found, or whether she’s even alive, but he refuses to think a girl that’s so amazing could be gone for good.
Paper Towns is witty, surprising, and original, with a fantastically memorable set of characters. I read the book in about a day, simply because the pace of the plot refused to let me go. The book moves quickly, creating a pleasant sense of vertigo that fits with Margot’s bewildering puzzles. I’m very much looking forward to June 19, 2015, when Paper Towns will be released as a major motion picture.