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Paper Towns: 05/31/16

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns by John Green is a book I read for my road narrative project. Quentin "Q" Jacobsen is about to graduate high school, though not in any particular stellar way, when he's pulled into web of mystery that is Margo Roth Spiegelman. When she goes missing he can think of nothing but figuring out what happened to her.

This book reads more like a trilogy of novellas, than a single, coherent novel. The first act or novella is an extreme version of a senior prank, an all nighter of mayhem in the suburbs that spills into Orlando proper. Q because he has access to a car (a minivan) and isn't popular enough to be drinking himself into a stupor at one of the senior parties is recruited by Margo to drive her to all the parts of her caper.

This section is my least favorite part of the book. It's positively reeking of male privilege and "boys will be boys" and a group of young men who will probably grow up to be mansplaining predators whining about how they can't "get any."

Then Margo comes in and I suppose she's supposed to be this alluring, powerful female character. Why she'd give Q and his loser friends more than a minute of her time, I don't know. Sure, he has wheels. And maybe she can see how ridiculously gullible he is. But he's also scary.

The second act is a missing person mystery. Margo has vanished. Her family doesn't care because she's an adult and that means their problem child is no longer their problem. That's another weird aspect of this book — how little the teens speak to their parents.

It's in looking for Margo that Q discovers two things: Walt Whitman and a burning desire to go on a roadtrip. In Walt Whitman we have the young adult recapitulation of Kris Lackey's RoadFrames thesis: that for the white male road trip, the experience is primarily a desire to experience the self discovery central to Transcontinentalism.

Margo, already gone, is taking the classic feminine road trip: namely that of escape. If men go to find themselves, women leave to escape — to find safe-haven, betterment, freedom, typically from the sort of patriarchy that Q represents.

The final act is Q and his friends ditching high school graduation (with their parents' permission; hello absentee parents!) to find Margo. In a replay of Dumb and Dumber (including the peeing in beer bottles) these nitwits head after Margo, believing there is a ticking timebomb tied to the time of graduation. Because of course they believe that they are so damn important to Margo that she will do something to herself to hurt them.

Given the urgency of their itinerary, allowing themselves only six minutes per stop to refuel, buy food, and pee (though they mostly seem to pee whist driving), they are hunters after prey (Margo). This isn't a romantic road trip reunion, though it is disguised as one.

Yes, Margo did leave clues behind. And maybe at some level she did eventually want Q and others to know where she had gone but his gathering up of a posse to go get her isn't a romantic gesture. I don't think it's what someone like Margo would have liked.

So in the end, Paper Towns was a paint by number road narrative. This is Dumb and Dumber taken seriously. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Three stars

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