Protagonist and narrator, Ouentin “Q” Jacobsen is in love with the girl next door, Margo Roth-Spiegelman since their childhood. As children, the two spend a lot of time together, but as they grew up, they have lost touch with each other. Now they are graduates at high school – Margo, who is one of the most popular girls and famous for her extraordinary adventures and Q, who has the girl in his mind all the time and sees her as the most perfect creature, that the world has ever created. One night, Margo shows up in his window, and convinces him to take part in her revenge mission. Q agrees, and they make her 11 tasks happen during the night. The other day turns out, that Margo went missing. Q finds out, that Margo had left some clues for him in order to find her. Q and his friends set out to find Margo, which is the beginning of an unforgettable adventure, on which Q finds out, that he might not looking for the girl, that lives in his imagination..
If you haven’t read the book, I recommend not to read further, because the text can include spoiler.
The book’s central thought is, that we tend to imagine or see other people wrong, mainly when we are interested in them romantically – we see them as something more and better, and in this way, we easily misimagine them or “dehumanize” them. It’s easy to forget, that they are just as human as we, having flaws too. We create these false illusions, which can be so real sometimes, that we easily forget where the borders lay between fantasy and reality. That’s the case with Quentin. He created such an unreal picture of Margo, he misimagined her so much, that it seems really hard to find her – but not because she’s actually hard to find, only because he’s looking for the wrong person.
According to Green, this is such a massive problem in all of us, that we find it hard to empathize with others, because we see everything only from our own point of view, we feel everything only on our own skin. And Paper towns is an exploration, which shows us how we learn to empathize with others – even with those, who make bad decisions or do bad things. As Radar puts it, Quentin expects people not to be themselves. This also means that nobody knows what is it to be You, because nobody is You. And vice versa. Quoting Green, for instance, when you broke your arm, others might feel sorry for you, they will be nice and understanding, but you are the only person who actually experiences the pain and discomforts your broken arm causes. We should keep that in mind, when we judge other people. We can try to understand why they are doing this and that, but we will never be able to actually “feel” their reasons. This is a general problem, because we want people to listen to us, but we fail, because the only person who can understand your broken arm, is you. This is why Radar tells Q that when it comes to knowing or loving a person, empathy is an imperfect tool, but the only one we have. The task to understand other people’s experiences, is really difficult, because you are you, and never, not only for a second can be somebody else. And this is not valid only for the ones, who live very different lives than you, but also for the ones, who are the closest to you. In your life, you see everybody in context with yourself: YOUR sister, YOUR parents, YOUR best friend, or whatever. But they don’t see themselves that way. They see themselves as the center of history, just like you see yourself.
There are plenty of metaphors in the book, which is specific for Green, and one of the things that makes his style even more unique. He reflects on the fact, that metaphors and symbols are not simply literary tools, but they are human tools. The book is separated into 3 parts, the 3 main symbols, that occur in various forms: the strings, the grass and the vessel.
The Strings – symbolizes breaking, change. Once one of Green’s friends had committed suicide, and someone said to him, that “maybe all the strings inside him broke”. This refers to the fact, that emotions, feelings don’t have a particular place in our body, but they do exist and can cause pain, too. For instance, if your back hurts, its easier to point to the place where it is, and others will understand that, because they have a back too, maybe their back hurt also before, so they know what it feels like. Its much more harder to empathize with someone, when what hurts is something abstract. When someone experiences grief or sadness, they often say “my heart hurts” or ” my heart is broken”. But this kind of pain – of course – is not in our hearts.
Quoting Green: “To talk about emotional pain (and lots of other emotional experiences), we are forced to use abstractions. (“My heart is broken,” is a symbolic statement.) And many people feel, in this world driven by data and statistics and concreteness, that abstractions are inherently kind of less valid than concrete observations. But emotional experience is as real and as valid as physical experience. And the fact that we have to use metaphor and symbolism to describe that pain effectively does not make it less real—just as abstract paintings are not inherently inferior to representational paintings.
You often hear in high school English classes, for instance, that thinking about symbols is dumb or useless or “ruining the book.” But underneath it all, this is why we have language in the first place. We don’t really need language to share the news of your back pain: You can point at your back and grimace to tell me that your back hurts, and I can nod sympathetically.
But to explain to you the nature and nuance of my grief or pain or joy, I need abstractions. I need symbols. And the better our symbols are, the more clearly we’ll be able to communicate with each other, and the more fully we’ll be able to imagine each other’s experience. Good symbolism makes empathy easier.
And this is very important to remember when reading or writing or painting or talking or whatever: You are never, ever choosing whether to use symbols. You are choosing which symbols to use.”
The Grass – we are like culms of grass on the fields; we are all connected, and no matter how different we are, we can still create a whole.
The Vessel – again, we tend to misimagine others. We can only see others the way they truly are, as fully humans, when cracks appear on the vessel (flaws, imperfection), so the light can get in, the light can get out.
The road trip – road trips are a good example of a thing we all do in our real lives that is a metaphorical action. When you go on a road trip, you are not only hoping that your geography will change: You’re hoping that the literal journey will be accompanied by an emotional or spiritual journey, and that you will come home different.
The black Santas – it is about how we imagine people (how Q imagines Margo, for instance), places (how Agloe was imagined into existence), and our stories (like Santa). It says a lot about us that we imagine Santa as a heterosexual white male. So Radar’s parents are trying to get us to imagine Santa differently and more complexly.
Margo’s name – Margo’s name has go in it (no need for explanation). Her last name, Spiegelman, means “mirror maker” in German—like, the guy in the German villages who made the mirrors was the spiegelman. And Margo functions as a mirror to the other characters in the novel: What they see when they look at Margo ends up saying a lot more about them than it says about Margo herself.
These metaphors are like tiny brooks, flowing together to make a beautiful, wide river at the end of the book.
WHAT PAPER TOWNS ARE?
Mapmakers make fictional entries in their maps as a way to tell if others are copying them. These entries can be towns, but they typically exist on a smaller scale. Mapmakers aren’t the only ones who use this copyright trick. Green mentioned fake entries in encyclopedias and dictionaries, including a word made up by the New Oxford American Dictionary that other dictionaries started including as a real word.
ABOUT JOHN‘S STYLE OF WRITING
He is a genius, because 1, metaphors 2, humor 3, all his stories are so real, realistic 4, deeply philosophic and entertaining at the same time 5, there’s always plenty of useful information, he always gives us a valuable lesson.
have you Seen the Trailer of the Upcoming movie? (I wrote it like this intentionally, because I felt terribly for the words in the middle. The ones, who have read the book, will understand.)
If you want to find out more, check out my main source for this post: http://johngreenbooks.com/pt-questions/