Friday, December 26, 2008

REVIEW: Paper Towns

Green, J. (2008). Paper Towns. New York: Dutton Books.


Paper Towns was pretty much what I had come to expect from author John Green: Quirky characters, humorous dialogue, endearing deeper meanings and thin, white, teen boys seeking some aspect of a particular girl.

Green’s narrator, Quentin, spends a lot of the novel ruminating on how he sees others, particularly his long-time neighbor, recent partner in pranks, and runaway love interest, Margo Roth Spiegelman, the most popular girl at their high school. The book extends out into questioning if a person can ever truly know another and looks at how complicated people are.
While Green’s writing still manages to make me laugh out loud fairly regularly, I did find that the dialogue-heavy ending did pain me a little as I read. It felt a little too meaningful, too sentimental. But then, the end of high school and high school friendships, with all the changes, uncertainties and leavings are often just that. This would be a good final book for a teacher to share with graduating seniors.

There is an extensive scene in the novel that involves underage drinking. Quentin remains sober and is witness to the humorous antics of his drunken schoolmates while waiting to act as their designated driver. The scene confirms the conclusion I learned as a teen: Alcohol is much more entertaining when you’re not the one consuming too much of it.

Activities to do with the book:

Read the works of literature and poetry mentioned throughout the novel (including Moby Dick, The Bell Jar, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman). As a project, have students grow grass in clear pots so they can see the extent of the root structure. Do reflective journal writing. Discuss the characterizations of the characters and the way people are characterized in our minds. Discuss the treatment of race, class, the act of leaving, etc.

Oh, and of course, you can ask students why the book was published with two different covers and ask which of them they prefer.
I myself tend toward the unsmiling, moody, blue cover of angst. But that is me.

Favorite Quotes:

“I shaved this morning for precisely that reason. I was like, ‘Well, you never know when someone is going to clamp down on your calf and try to suck out the snake poison’” (p. 75).
-This is also when I tell myself when I’ve avoided shaving my legs for too long. Margo and I are so alike—or is it just my perception of the world that we’re alike, hmm?
“No, I love you. Not like a sister loves a brother or like a friend loves a friend. I love you like a really drunk guy loves the best girl ever” (p. 187).
“They’d given me a minivan. They could have picked any car, and they picked a minivan. A minivan. O God of Vehicular Justice, why dost thou mock me? Minivan, you albatross around my neck! You mark of Cain! You wretched beast of high ceilings and few horsepower!” (p. 232).

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