As children, Quentin and his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman were best buddies. But as often happens, by the time they reach high school they are in different cliques. The beautiful Margo is popular and mysterious. Quentin is just counting the days until graduation. So, when Margo shows up at Quentin’s bedroom window late one night and asks him to join her on a secret mission, Quentin is more than a little surprised. And even though he has been in love with Margo since they were nine, he hesitates – Quentin has never really been the sneaking out type. But Margo is persuasive, using both emotional manipulation and the promise of adventure to lure Quentin out for what she promises will be the night of his life.
What ensues is a night of revenge, trespassing, and petty crime. And then she’s gone. Margo doesn’t come back to school and she never goes back home. When it becomes obvious to Quentin that she isn’t coming back, he makes it his personal mission to find her, believing she has left clues to help him. Trying to decipher her clues and locate Margo, Quentin enlists the help of his friends and hers and in the process turns the social order of their senior class upside down – and with only a few weeks until graduation.
John Green’s characters in this novel (and in The Fault in Our Stars) are cool, edgy, slightly odd, witty, and, for the most part, extremely likable. They are, however, not really guided by any sort of moral compass (unless you count the poetry of Walt Whitman). In fact, I think Margot Roth Spielman might even be suffering from a borderline personality disorder of some sort. And yet, she is the heroine of this novel. She is the cool chick. And while her exploits frustrate and even anger some of the other characters, and while readers might even find some of them funny, she is basically a very selfish, very strange, and a very bad person. And again, she’s the cool chick. She’s the one Quentin loves. And in the end, I think Green wants us to love her too – or at least like her. But I don’t. She’s the embodiment of everything I would never want my children to be.
Paper Town’s is funny and intelligent. So in that regard it is a much better novel than a lot of the YA novels out there. Unfortunately, it lacks a deeper value. It lacks characters who grow into better people, which is kind of what you want in a book for young people. The novel tries to be deep and Green’s characters do have some deep thoughts and some great lines, but in the end, I don’t think they are the kind of characters that make a great YA novel. They aren’t nobel, honorable, or even particularly kind. To his credit, Quentin is a better person, and I think a better character, than Margo. But I’d like him better if he saw her for what she really is – not a cool chick with some strange quirks, but a deeply disturbed person with mental issues that allow her to treat others with total disregard.
No. But there is vandalism.
Yes. Again, these are teenagers with no moral compass.
There is a lot of talk of characters who have had or are having sex. And there’s a seen where Quentin peeks in on a teenage couple having sex, but there is nothing graphic. Also there is quite a bit of drinking.
If your daughter or son does read this novel, here are some ideas to discuss.
- What does Quentin really feel for Margo? Love? Fascination? Admiration?
- Is Margot a product of her upbringing or is she just a bad person?
- Does her parents’ lack of concern for her justify Margo’s behavior?
- Does the fact that Margo leaves her little sister behind make her leaving worse?
- Do her boyfriend’s behavior and her best friend’s justify her revenge streak?
- In the end, what do you think of Margot? Is she eccentric or out and out crazy?
QUOTES FROM THE NOVEL
“That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfeast cereals based on color instead of taste.”
“I’m not saying that everything is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is.”
“Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement, There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for plannning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future–you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.”
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”
“The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightening, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the Queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.”
“Radar threw his books into his locker and shut it. Then the din of conversation around us quieted just a bit as he turned his eyes toward the heavens and shouted, “IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT MY PARENTS OWN THE WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF BLACK SANTAS.”
“It’s not just the gossip and the parties and all that crap, but the whole allure of a life rightly lived – college and job and husband and babies and all that bullshit.”