Paper Towns by John Green

Posted February 5, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 3 Comments

Paper Towns

Paper Towns

by John Green

Publisher: Speak on October 16, 2008
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew...


While many people will lean toward Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars, I must confess that Paper Towns is my favorite John Green novel.  I think it may be because this book has so many things that intrigue me – secrets in maps, road trips with friends, a treasure hunt.  While I’m not as enamored as Quentin, I genuinely do like Margo Roth Spiegelman.  And I like this book.

After a while and a few re-reads, John Green’s characters start to blend together.  There are elements to Margo that remind me of Alaska, and all of Green’s moody male teen protagonists start to sound like pining, boring lumps after a while.  Sometimes, I’m okay with that, though.  While the characters sound similar, Green’s skill at creating an adventure out of so many ordinary elements is delightful.  I keep rereading his books because they make me smile, and they interest me.  I can’t quite say I was rooting for Q in this one, but I was enjoying his search.

John Green’s style in Paper Towns retains the same ring as his other books.  In a role reversal from An Abundance of Katherines, we have a hopeful protagonist and two doubtful yet supportive best friends.  We have a car trip into the great unknown.  We have unlikely relationships and the reminder people are more complicated than just the molds we fit them into.

The “unsatisfying ending” does tend to frustrate people.  Green doesn’t play into romantic hearts or allow that sense of satisfaction from a job well done.  I’m strange in that I really enjoy endings like the one we get here – not everything is happily ever after, but at least there’s closure.  It’s a soft reminder that not everything is picture perfect and that life is messy and we make choices and take risks and things may or may not work out… but we do what we must because we are alive and we may not have another chance.

I like that.  John Green uses that theme a lot – the feeling of taking chances and having ordinary adventures.

There’s a good amount of immediate action in Paper Towns, including dead bodies, hijinks, and breaking and entering. It fills most of the first 30% of the book.  After that, there’s a lull.  You keep waiting for an aha! moment and it takes its sweet time rolling along. In that way, the pacing can feel a bit sluggish after the initial adventure, and I can see this book losing readers in its middle section.

One criticism in his writing:  the r-word is used a lot, the slur for the differently-abled. If it was written now, John Green would have made a different choice  I’m not defending the choice, but I know back in 2008 it was part of the vernacular to say something is “stupid”.  It’s jarring to hear and an unfortunate decision that has aged poorly in our more attuned future.  I don’t believe it is worth skipping the book over, but to many it will be a harmful word to read, so I wanted to mention it.  I think highly of John Green in general, and I personally do not believe him to have intended any hurt or pain from his choice of language – indeed, I find it more to be a reflection of “the way kids talk these days”.  It was, unfortunately, an accurate and unforgivable depiction of teen language when the book was released, and John Green has apologized for it since.

Still, I enjoy Paper Towns.  It’s one of Green’s under-appreciated novels, and that’s a shame, because it still contains elements people loved in Looking for Alaska.  I guess it just depends on what sort of adventure you’re looking for, and this one appeals to me.  If you enjoy his other works and you can forgive his unfortunate use of language, this is a good one.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Writing: ★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★


Have you ever taken a road trip with your friends?  I never have, and it’s a part of high school / collage that I feel like I totally missed out on.  If you have, I want to hear all about your adventures – let me know in the comments!

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3 responses to “Paper Towns by John Green

  1. Paper Towns is also my favourite John Green book! I haven’t read any of his books for a long while but iirc I also enjoyed it for that overarching theme you describe. I liked that Quentin was a flawed character, building up so much in his mind and making himself the ‘hero’, when Margo was really just selfishly thinking of herself.

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