Honest and lively YA book reviews
There's something about teenagers I find wholly obnoxious. Maybe it's the undeserved attitude of self righteousness. Maybe it's the insistence that no-one understands them. Maybe it's the belief that everything they are doing right now individually, is more vitally important than anything else that other people are achieving. Maybe it's the intensity with which they go about their daily lives. Maybe it's their penchant for obsession and over philosophical analysation of every situation they find themselves in. Well heads up guys: the world is a pretty big place. There are seven billion of us sharing this atmosphere and we've all been teenagers. There's nothing mystical about being sixteen, seventeen or eighteen. And believe me, these are not the most important years of your life. These are in fact, your final years of being able to make a giant cock-up and it having next to no consequence in your later life. So guys, instead of moping, why not enjoy this freedom. I can assure you, only at 17 will you be able to drive 1100 miles, surviving on your parents money to search for some girl you don't even know. Only at 17 will you have to time to wander around an abandoned mini-mall staring at the walls and noticing the way the starlight plays out across the dusty floor. Only at 17 will you have the energy to stay up drinking until 5am and have friends with enough time, loyalty and stupidity to arrive to scrape you off the floor and pick a glued-on beer can off your hand. So hey - here's an idea: quit being so hard done by. Go to fucking school, enjoy your friends and your goddam free time and be super grateful that your parents will pay for college and a pissing car and stop trying to find more meaning than there is your fucking "paper" life. Because the meaning will come, my friends. Having only 17 years of experience at life is not the time to be searching for it.
Of course, I don't refer to every teenage alive. There are some people who have struggled. And I acknowledge and respect that. But the people who work their damn asses off, the people who have to fight to get what they want, the people who pull themselves up out of a toxic situation and make changes off their own backs are generally not the kind of people who drive around, using their parents gas to explore abandoned subdivisions and then create some deep and philosophical meaning for their actions. No these are the people who just live their goddam life. Who achieve something, who are down to earth and realistic and switched on and who get shit done.
Sadly Paper Towns by John Green is about the first kind of teenager.
Quentin is your average high school kid, middle of the road in the pecking order with a few good friends, average grades and loving parents. He has had a crush on his next door neighbour, Margo Roth Spieglman forever and when she disappears following a whirlwind night of pranks and hi-jinks on which she insists Quentin (nicknamed Q) accompanies her, Q is left puzzled, hurt and afraid for her safety. He discovers clues she left, breadcrumb style just days before she vanished and with the help of his friends Ben, Radar and Lacey he sets out to discover her whereabouts, along the way realising that she wasn't the girl he thought he knew.
So here's Q: he's obsessed with this Margo chick. That's pretty much it. There's nothing more to him. Every breath he takes is to stay alive to uncover the mystery of Margo. And the sad thing? He's not really obsessed with her: he's obsessed with the idea of her. The whole crux of the book is how we view people compared to how they really are.
The way we interpret others is far more complex than hearing what they say, witnessing their actions and drawing a conclusion. We put a little piece of ourselves into everyone. We use our own history, our own experiences to make comparisons and to place judgements. We automatically associate certain appearances or phrases or likes with certain characters. For example, some people may have a hard time trusting someone with facial hair due to a bad memory of the past in which they witnessed a man with facial hair holding a store full of people hostage at gunpoint while he robbed the till. Other people may automatically love and trust all people with facial hair because of well, Santa Claus. These are only examples but what I'm getting at is that the person you think you know, may be an entirely different person altogether. And so is, apparently the case with Margo. Q views her as some incredible, adventurous and lively girl because she has always been a hot topic of gossip at their school. He places her way up high on a pedestal due to her standing amongst the popular kids and the fact that she's supposedly done all these badass things like break into some theme park somewhere. However, inside Margo is an angry, moody, selfish bitch with a love of retro music and travel. She feels hurt and disdain towards her parents and her peers because no-one understands her.
"The fundamental mistake I had always made - and in fairness, she had always led me to make - was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was girl." (Quentin)
Yes. Margo puts her pants on one leg at a time, same as everybody else.
I think this could have been an interesting concept to explore if we hadn't explored it with Q and Margo. Neither is particularly likeable. The problem is, Q feels incredible awe for Margo. He places her at the centre of importance in everything he does. And Margo is not deserving of this worship. Q's journey leads him to realise that people are not always truly who they choose to project themselves to be. People often hide behind a false facade, and it can be hard to see through the layers to the person hiding beneath. Quentin had his own idea of who Margo was, to break through. And he also had to break through the Margo that she herself had chosen to display to the world. But this is an awful lot of work to break down the barriers of a girl who is in fact a selfish, attention seeking bitch. Margo runs away constantly for no other reason I can see than boredom and that age-old excuse of no-one understands me. Margo - if no-one understands you then it's time to review your communication style. She claims no-one gets her, and yet she doesn't share what's important to her with anyone. Like her music collection. What's the big deal with saying "Hey everyone. I like music." Why cover up something as perfectly acceptable and mundane as that with all the shenanigans with the fucking dead fish prank and smashing your friends windows in?!!
Margo can't stand to be ordinary.
“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."
She doesn't want to live a typical life. She wants to be something special. She wants to break the mould. I think everyone goes through these feelings. Feelings that there must be more. And I think teenagers in particular yearn for this, and ask why does everyone follow the path? I began down this route. I left home straight after high school travelled abroad alone at a very young age. Had a breakdown. Returned home. Travelled some more. I had an urge to experience things. To experience everything. But everything is not all it's cracked up to be. Eventually everyone wants to come home. And what bugs me about Margo is that she can't just go out and have some life experiences and do her thing quietly. And then draw her conclusions. No. She has to drag everyone into it - irritating her parents, scaring her younger sister, worrying all her friends. She can't say, "Hey guys - I'm gonna take a trip. I need to clear my head. I'll see you when I see you." Because this would be considerate. This would be thoughtful. But Margo isn't considerate and thoughtful. She's a pain in the ass. She has to be mysterious, but her whole angst is about how everyone thinks she's a mystery. AARGH!! Margo - make up your freaking mind!!
There should be some class in high schools called Successful Communication and it should be compulsory for every teen. There would be lessons about how to discuss problems, how to make a request of your parents, how to deal with conflict and how to approach difficult topics amongst others. And it would be the most useful damn class in the whole fucking school because the more I read contemporary YA which is supposed to be an accurate portrayal of teenagers today and their lives, the more I realise that no-one knows how to talk to each other. The problem with Margo wasn't that no-one understood her, it was that Margo didn't allow herself to be understood. She was all smoke and mirrors (Spieglman translates from German as "mirror maker" for fucks sake!!) - she created the illusion and then got pissy when people couldn't see through it.
“All along — not only since she left, but for a decade before — I had been imagining her without listening, without knowing that she made as a poor a window as I did. And so I could not imagine her as a person who could feel fear, who could feel isolated in a roomful of people, who could be shy about her record collection because it was too personal to share. Someone who might have read travel books to escape having to live in the town that so many people escape to. Someone who — because no one thought she was a person — had no one to really talk to.”
Quentin feels bad about not seeing Margo - about never really seeing her for who she was. But Margo has to take some responsibility here. She never reached out for anyone. She never acted like she really liked anyone. She never shared anything about herself. She pushed everyone away. She's sitting in that shack at the end, scribbling in her stupid fucking notebook feeling so sorry for herself over a situation she herself created. Get a goddam grip Margo!!
Teenagers love to think they're grown up. That they know things. But any teenager who behaves like Margo doesn't know shit. She's incredibly childish for blaming others for her flaws and Quentin is incredibly childish for expecting everyone to think the same way he does.
Quentin is a puzzle for me. Much of what he does is illogical. Why doesn't he care about anything except this girl he hardly knows? They weren't seeing each other, they hadn't even been friends since they were 10 years old but for some reason he's willing to put his real friendships in jeopardy to search for her. He brushed Ben aside constantly, and although Ben is a giant douche, he doesn't deserve to be treated this way. Q never puts him first and doesn't respect his wish to attend prom or the importance he places on graduation. In short, Q is a pretty terrible friend. It's a hard lesson to learn, as a kid that other people are different from ourselves and have different priorities and needs and thoughts and opinions. This is why kids are selfish. They place themselves at the centre of everything, much like cats, and only with maturity does this fade. Quentin's journey takes him some of the way there but even at the end he still clings to the hope that Margo will return to Florida with him and live her life next door to his.
"know it's impossible for you to see your peers this way, but when you're older, you start to see them--the bad kids and the good kids and all kids--as people. They're just people, who deserve to be cared for."
Q has to label people. He can't see past this. When we judge people we only see them in relation to ourselves. We don't see them as individuals with likes and dislikes, dreams and ambitions. They become cardboard-cutouts in our lives, revolving around our own selfish desires. Q does this to Ben and to Radar and to a lesser extent Lacey and it fucking bugs the crap outta me. There is some progression in the story into Quentin's realisation about how it's important to like people for who they are without trying to change people to suit ourselves, but it's not taken to a deep enough level which is a shame because this is such a vitally important life lesson. But no. We're too busy dealing with fucking Margo Roth Spieglman's shit to address this.
This book made me rage. With all it's sassing me, flipping it's goddam hair and smirking about how fucking philosophical it is, cramming in as many metaphors as it physically possible into a 300 page novel and rolling it's pissing eyes thinking how much smarter than me it is and how deep and meaningful it should be in my fucking life. You suck book. You fucking suck. Take your goddam spoiled, talking-like-we-know-shit in our soon to be outdated teen-speak kids and get off my shelf. And while you're at it, how about growing the fuck up. You're teaching us jack about that. Stop pretending that your helping us "find ourselves". And stop using sentences like this:
"I don't know how I look, but I know how I feel: Young. Goofy. Infinite."
STOP USING INFINITE TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF. STAAAHPP!!! This shit drives me insane. We're fucking people - we're not the sodding universe. Realise that there's more in this world that you!! How about being generous? How about being caring? How about being compassionate and empathetic and thoughtful? Stop putting so much weight in being INFINITE!! It means nothing!!
Yeah. This book made me ridiculously mad. Un-proportionally mad. Like, there is literally no need for the level of madness this book stirred within me. But I really genuinely would hate for any teen to think this is a productive use of their time - either reading this, or behaving like any of the characters in this book. You know the best way to "find yourself" or to learn about others? Go volunteer somewhere helping people who have nothing. Go help sick and injured animals. Play competitive team sports. Travel to a city with a rich history and learn about how people used to live. Have some interests and some pastimes that you feel passionate about. Don't mill around, pandering to spoiled kids whims. Don't ruin chances of those around you and don't live solely inside your head a la Quentin. There's only one single card in the tarot deck that encourages inner reflection. ONE!! What does this tell you? That the majority of your time should not be spent in philosophical contemplation of how everything is made of paper. So go: LIVE YOUR FUCKING LIVES PEOPLE!!
Have a great time!!