Lessons From…Paper Towns

I have just finished another John Green novel last week. Specifically, I read Paper Towns which I loved and highly recommend. Yeah, I read Young Adult fiction. Wanna make something out of it? Anyhow, while I was reading this book two things in particular stuck out to me, and, obviously, I felt the need, or urge if you will, to analyze them more in depth. Thus another post. As always SPOILERS ahead.

There will come a day when I do not use this picture as a spoilers warning; today is not that day.

There will come a day when I do not use this picture as a spoilers warning; today is not that day.

The narrative of Paper Towns revolves around the mystery of Margo Roth Spiegelman’s disappearance and the clues she has seemingly left behind for Quentin Jacobsen, a sort of childhood friend, concerning her sudden absence. The story then progresses through various adventures and inclusion of several characters, friends, and future potential allies in solving the great mystery of what happened to the elusive Margo Roth Spiegelman. It really is a great story that delves into some of the “big” questions of life and humanity through the lens of high school seniors and their particular world views. Usually that last bit is what alienates several potential readers away from the Young Adult genre, but in my opinion I honestly believe this exploration of life through the emotional uncertainty that traditionally accompanies teenage life actually makes for more interesting discussions and examinations. There is something pure in the naivety of teenagers that lacks the protective nature of ego adults have.

Moving on, the core of the mystery and narrative of the book concerns the way people view each other and, in many ways, themselves. I wish I could figure out a way to say it better, but the author does an impeccable job himself.

This is Lesson 1.

This is Lesson 1.

Every character in the novel has two selves, or two personas; one is the way they are seen and the other is how they see themselves. Neither version is completely accurate, but both personas influence each other and the actual person they are supposed to exemplify. For example, in the book Margo is seen as a fully different person by almost everyone she knows. To her parents, she is an irresponsible teenager whose actions are an affront to the family and their image. To her friends, and most other students, she is the popular, cool girl who rules the school. To Quentin, she is the perfect girl next door who is the love of his life. As the story progresses, all these images and versions fall apart and something remains from the rubble and ash. Now, these remains are not necessarily the ‘real’ Margo, but it is the closest anyone will see of what the ‘real’ Margo as it is a persona she chose outside the expectations and complications of others eyes and ideas and concerns.

It might seem a bit selfish for someone to just leave without warning or concern for others, but so what if it is? In her case, Margo does it under the best conditions. She is not married. She doesn’t have any kids. She doesn’t really have any responsibilities. To her friends, it seems like one of the worst betrayals she could have committed, but to her it was the only method of finally being her. After all, her friends were not losing Margo, but were losing their image of Margo which was more informed by them than by Margo. Sometimes the only way to really be who you are and meant to be is to simply leave and figure out who that really is.

This is not to say that the adventure Quentin and his friends went on didn’t matter or came to nothing which brings us to the next core principle found in the book. Again the author does a much better job than I.

This is Lesson 2.

This is Lesson 2.

The idea of paper towns in the book is from an old cartographer trick. Basically, map makers would make up cities and landmarks in their maps, so that if they found them in other maps, they would know that someone had stolen their work. Essentially, the paper towns were fake, imaginary things in the mind of the individuals who made them. The primary characters, particularly Margo, in the novel are paper towns themselves. They are amalgamations and creations of the people they interact with. Ultimately, as Quentin discovers, these versions of people we create are found to be fake and wanting and not at all the real person underneath. However, this is not the true importance of those relationships and encounters. The idea of the person might be ‘paper’ but the experiences and memories and moments we had with these individuals will far surpass the person and be far more influential in our development and lives than the people themselves.

After all, our memories are how we filter and learn from the experiences of life. If those memories are slightly different from reality, does it really matter since we still have those images of it in our heads? Thus Green’s words ring true that the memories remain and are what was important.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

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