John Green's 'Paper Towns' Blew Me Away

I knew I loved The Fault In Our Stars but I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t expecting a repeat performance of anything so grand and eloquent. John Green, Maestro, I underestimated you.

Paper Towns is a work of poetic genius. Looking back at the story—which took me only a day to blow through, so enthralled was I—it has taken on the aura of a fairy tale or a story of magic, something unique, poignant, and triumphant. Green really knows how to write a book that feels like nothing else you’ve ever read before, with characters who are familiar and yet constantly surprise you.

The book’s plot is this: Quentin, “Q” for short, has been in love with his popular next-door neighbor Margo for most of his life. She’s adventure personified. Fearless, beautiful, unattainable, Margo Roth Speigelman is easy to love. Everyone loves her, everyone is in awe of her, but no one really knows her, a fact that becomes evident when she disappears.

Margo spends one night with Q executing a brilliant plan for revenge against the classmates that betrayed her, and Quentin once again falls in love with her adventurous, free spirit, but she doesn’t show up to school the next day. Margo has a history of running away from home and leaving clues hinting at her location, so Quentin is on a mission to find the puzzle pieces she left him which will lead to her, the girl of his dreams.


The closer Quentin and his friends come to finding Margo, the less they realize they ever knew her. She’s an enigma. She hid so much of her personal struggle and her inner personality that Q is desperate to learn about the “real” Margo, the one that was hidden for so long.

At the core of this story is the idea that people fall in love with ideas more than with people. We reflect our own desires and fantasies onto someone else, without really seeing them for who they are. Quentin was in love with Margo for his whole life and held this conception of her that unraveled completely with the slightest inspection. This paragraph of the book encapsulates the idea much better than I could ever paraphrase:

“Maybe its like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And then things happen—these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack in places. And I mean, yeah once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable. Once it starts to rain inside the Osprey, it will never be remodeled. But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And its only that time that we see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. 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.” 

Quentin spends the entire story thinking he’s getting closer to finding the “real” Margo. This is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a mystery and a poem, because Quentin also comes to deal with his own insecurities: his anxiety, fear, and timidity among them. This story stresses the importance not only of getting to know others, but also of getting to know—and love—yourself.

Five Enthusiastic Stars.

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  • This is an absolutely fantastic post about the book, after reading it myself a few months ago. I was definitely more than pleasantly surprised by the depth of the story.
    If I may, another book that amazed me in a similar way, was Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why.

    • Thank you for reading! I was so happy and satisfied by the time I’d finished this book, and I think that’s the mark of a great story. I’ve also heard good things about 13 Reasons Why. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • I have always wanted to read this book! I read 13 reasons why and I did not like it at all!

    • I loved this book and definitely, definitely recommend it. I’ve heard mixed things about 13 Reasons, too! What’s it about?

      • its about a girl who commits suicide and makes a list of 13 reasons why, but each thing is a person.

  • I was lukewarm after reading TFIOS but this does sound interesting. I think there’s a movie coming out as well, so it will undoubtedly be a hit. Great review otherwise!

  • I’m so glad you wrote this! Honestly, I am right in the boat you were in. I knew nothing about John Green 3 years ago when I first read The Fault in Our Stars. Then I was nervous that I’d read his best work and nothing else would compare. I bought his entire backlist in hopes of giving it a shot, and since then, I have read nothing but The Fault in Our Stars (again). I’m so glad you enjoyed this as much as you did. Gives me hope that I, too, underestimated his other works!

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