“Nothing ever happens like you imagine it will,” she says.
“But then again, if you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all.”
I already said this in a status update but I am so glad I reread Paper Towns. I first read it years ago; back before I’d heard of vlogbrothers, back when John Green was only known by a handful of readers, way way back before The Fault in Our Stars. And I loved it.
“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”
Then TFiOS happened and I began to question my feelings for John Green’s writing. I know millions loved his tragicomedy about teens with cancer, yet I found it cheesy and contrived, with unrealistic characters who wallowed in their own pretentious philosophy (sorry fans, but that’s how I felt). And I began to wonder if perhaps his books had always been like that and I’d somehow missed it. If perhaps Paper Towns wouldn’t be the way I remembered it.
You see, here’s some truths about John Green: He’s an intelligent writer. He loves philosophy and he embraces nerddom. And, under it all, he’s a romantic. In TFiOS, I believe he took these things too far. It felt like a book that set out with a mission to be deep, clever, to deliver a multitude of messages, to prove that teenagers are quirky and intelligent. Augustus, especially, seemed built around “intelligence” and “quirkiness” to the point that he didn’t feel real; he felt like a caricature of a “philosophical teen”.
But coming back to Paper Towns made me realise that I hadn’t changed. JG’s style had. Unlike TFiOS, these characters feel real. I felt like I was observing real teens living real lives, even though the plot does contain some fantastical elements. But it’s because Quentin and his friends feel like teenagers. Many of them are still smart (it wouldn’t be a JG book if they weren’t) but they’re realistic, silly, horny, and as ridiculous as we all ultimately are.
I laughed out loud so many times. I highlighted so many quotes and then couldn’t decide which ones to include in my review. I enjoyed the “depth” of the novel that emerges gradually behind the silliness. The lessons about teen love and growing up and wanting to escape. In TFiOS, I felt like JG created caricatures. In this book, he takes caricatures and stereotypes and peels back the layers of them to reveal the people underneath. Which is, ultimately, the underlying theme of this book:
“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
Years have passed. People have changed. And this book is still as good as it always was.