Book Club Chat: ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green

by Kim on April 6, 2011 · 17 comments

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Last week, my in read life book club met to discuss Paper Towns by John Green. This is, I think, the first young adult book we’ve read as a book club, and I think the change of pace was fun for everyone. There’s something about reading a book about high school that makes you want to trade stories about the person you were back in those dark days, isn’t there?

I love the description of Paper Towns from John Green’s website, so I’m just going to use that instead of trying to sum things up on my own:

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back 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 of the girl he thought he knew.

The only other John Green book I’d read before this one was Looking for Alaska, and I think there are some definite similarities. Both feature quite, nerdy guys and the “manic pixie dream girl” they think they are in love with. In both cases, the dream girl turns out to be different than the nerdy guy expected and the story is about the growing up teenagers face when life changes dramatically.

Unlike some of the other books we’ve read, everyone in the book club really loved this book. I thought it was an excellent read — smart, quirky, actually laugh-out-loud funny, and emotionally gripping without being melodramatic. I loved this book, and would definitely recommend it.

The most interesting part of our discussion was in response to the question of whether Margo and Quentin were fully-realized characters, or if the sidekicks — Quentin’s nerdy friends — were the best parts of the story. One person suggested that, as narrator, Quentin has to be sort of vanilla because that way he becomes a person more readers can relate to. Others said that part of the point of Margo is that she’s mysterious, that the Margo everyone thinks they know is just an idea, and part of the book is trying to figure out who she is.

In any case, Paper Towns was a great read for all of us that I think everyone would recommend. And it was a definite departure from our other recent reads, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

Our next pick, scheduled for the end of April or beginning of May, is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. I’ve been meaning to read this one for months now, so I’m glad I finally have the outside motivation I get to it!

Rating: ★★★★☆

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne April 6, 2011 at 10:41 am

I think that’s an awfully good point about Quentin being “vanilla” so more readers can relate. That also seems to me one of the starting points for a distinction between YA and “adult” literature (love that phrase; sounds like you have to go in the back to get it).

But as I said in my review (back in January of 2009), I found this one disturbing. Maybe I reacted too much like a parent; I find that increasingly with YA novels….may be curmudgeonliness setting in. At least I can still like things like Spring Awakening.

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Jeanne: That is a great point about YA literature and the main characters — that often they have qualities (or lack thereof) that many people can relate to.

And you are right; this book was disturbing in many places (I’m thinking around the middle in particular). But the distrubing parts didn’t come up too much in our discussion, so I forgot to mention them here.

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bermudaonion (Kathy) April 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I got all excited because I thought I had this book, but I don’t. I have 2 other Green titles, though.

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm

bermudaonion: I liked Looking for Alaska a lot too, so I can recommend that one! I haven’t read anything else by Green though.

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Trisha April 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I loved this book – in part because Margo is set up as an ideal (a manic pixie dream girl) but by the end she has become less perfection and more reality – if that makes sense. So many books like this keep the MPDG perfect.

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Trisha: Yes! That’s part of what our group came to decide too. Margo is an idea — for Quentin and the reader — and then grows into more of a person as we get to know her. I think part of what makes the book good is her transition that way.

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Jenny April 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I love that “manic pixie dream girl” has gained such currency as a phrase. :)

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Jenny: You know, I’d never heard of it until one of the girls in the book club brought it up, and now I see that character everywhere!

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Belle Wong April 6, 2011 at 7:45 pm

This sounds like a great read. I love, too, the idea of it being a book club read. I can just imagine the wonderful high school stories you all traded on book club night!

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Belle: We had a lot of them! And we found out the club is full of smart ladies who graduated at the top of the class :)

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LindsayC77 April 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm

This is code for: we were all nerds. Or sophisticated dorks, however you like. :-)

I did love this book, and I’m so glad we read it (as you said, this doesn’t always happen). I haven’t read a YA book in years, and it was fun to read about a protagonist who was in a place in his life where I had been.

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Kim April 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm

LindsayC77: Huge nerds! But that’s ok — I’ve always liked nerds better.

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Trish April 7, 2011 at 7:29 am

So glad you liked this one Kim! I listened to it last year and enjoyed it so much that I bought a paper copy of the book. Maybe I’ll read it on Saturday (can’t decide on that or Abundance of Katherines). I agree with you that Quentin is kind of the vanilla but I still really loved him as a character. And one thing that I really apprecipate about Green is his ability to be impactful without overly dramatic. Yay John Green!

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Trish: I liked Quentin a lot too, I think part of because he was a bit quiet and held back. And you’re totally right about Green’s writing having impact without melodrama. I really like that too.

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softdrink April 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Manic pixie dream girl? It really is true that you can learn something new every day.

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Kim April 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm

softdrink: I didn’t know that one until book club either!

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Vivz December 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Just came across this site and it lead me to this page..after reading through, i wanna read this book even though it’s not my habit. I’ve always seen john green’s book whenever i passed by a bookstore not until now i realized it’s good so yeah… I wanna try that!!! So excited!! :-))

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