Paper Towns is a Questionable Narrative With Points of Greatness

Paper Towns is John Green’s third published novel, and is about a high school senior who runs away, and a group of other seniors who try to find her. Fairly simple.

At some point in reading this book, I realised that the attention I pay to my own blog is surprisingly subpar. I am currently running two book review series, and it hasn’t exactly been the best managed. Usually, I finish one review series before I move on to another, but what I’ve done here is finished three-fifths of one series, completely stopped, and now have completed three-fifths of the other. That would explain why my House of Hades review has been long, long overdue, but it should come soon enough.

While Looking For Alaska may be considered a mystery, it really isn’t. It only has that element in the final third, and if you really think about it, it isn’t much of a mystery.

In this, however, Green writes a complete mystery, the dark horse of book genres for me. There is nothing that can grip anyone onto a book than a great mystery. Was this a great mystery? I’ve read better. I might be setting the bar too high, considering the fact that I’ve just been through four seasons of Sherlock, but I think I’m being reasonable.

It could be argued that there is more to discover with a missing person than with a runaway, and that is the biggest defence one can have of the overall narrative of this book. The story is heavily attached to a Walt Whitman poem, Song of Myself, from Leaves of Grass, and I think this is the strongest point of this book. If it was written wrong it could be considered lazy, but the development of the story going along with snippets of the poem is intriguing to say the least.

The reason I was not completely invested in the mystery itself is because of a flaw I didn’t think I would have with this book: its characters.

In Looking For Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, the primary character is great. They each have something distinctly unique about them, with Miles having a knack for remembering last words, and Colin, among other things, being an anagramming machine. In this book, though, there is nothing particularly appealing to me about Quentin, whose biggest characteristic I can recall is his love for Margo, the girl who has run away. Interestingly, her character is captivating, which really gives this book some points, but the narrating character fell short in my opinion.

Another noticeable problem in this book comes with its form of address. The majority of the book is narrated in the past tense, but at two instances – once in the middle and once at the end – it switches to present tense. While it certainly worked towards the end, the one chapter that switched in the middle felt awkward to read and really out of place, and I’ve struggled to find a reason for it to be in the present tense at all.

However, while I contemplated this book being lacklustre overall despite the fact that it was an enjoyable read, the ending really deserves applause because it is something special. I was waiting for the book to end until I got to the third section, at which point I really didn’t want it to end because every word I was reading was magical, with both main characters coming to realisations of each other and the book ending on a not-so-complete, tear-jerking note.

Paper Towns is not as good as Looking For Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines, although it does have its plus points. However, the flaws it has are evident and so I cannot be too kind as to give it a better rating that I had in mind when I began writing this review (I have been guilty of changing my mind mid-review in the past).

On a scale where M is the lowest, and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

Paper Towns: MIHIR

As a side note, it should be noted that the concept of a paper town is actually quite intriguing. John Green even did a TED Talk about them, which you can view here.


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