Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stop the presses! An additional best YA read of 2008 (Books - Paper Towns by John Green)

I was only joking about needing to overturn my best reads of 2008, good thing I didn't promise to eat my hat. I won't overturn my YA selection, but I will add another title to it. Several months ago, our dear, late fellow book blogger, Dewey, posted about Paper Towns by John Green. I put it on my library reserve requests and promptly forgot about it. With finals done, I picked it up yesterday and read it in a couple of sittings today while getting ready to leave for Ohio. It is written with a nerdy teenage audience in mind, but it works just fine for recovering or lapsed members of the community. What a terrific, deep, smart, laugh-out-loud book. It's a joy.

John Green's voice for Quentin, his narrator, is part worry-wart, part grammarian, part romantic, self-centered teenager. On the one hand the language is familiar and accessible:
I was so pathetically easy to forget about Chuck, to talk about prom even though I didn't give a shit about prom. Such was life that morning: nothing really mattered that much, not the good things and not the bad ones. We were in the business of mutual amusement, and we were reasonably prosperous.
I spent the next three hours in classrooms, trying not to look at the clocks above various blackboards, and then looking at the clocks, and then being amazed that only a few minutes had passed since I last looked at the clock. I'd had nearly four years of experience looking at these clocks, but their sluggishness never ceased to surprise. If I am ever told that I have one day to live, I will head straight for the hallowed halls of Winter Park High School, where a day has been known to last a thousand years.
both my parent are therapists, which means that I am really goddamned well adjusted.
dead-on about adolescent nerds:
Ben's voice rose with excitement. "You were with Margo Roth Spiegelman last night? At THREE A.M.?" I nodded. "Alone?" I nodded. "Oh my God, if you hooked up with her, you have to tell me every single thing that happened. You have to write me a term paper on the look and feel of Margo Roth Spiegelman's breasts. Thirty pages minimum!"

"I want you to do a photo-realistic pencil drawing, " Radar said.

"A sculpture would also be acceptable," Ben added.

Radar half raised his hand. I dutifully called on him. "Yes, I was wondering if it would be possible for you to write a sestina about Margo Roth Spiegelman's breasts? You six words are : pink, round, firmness, succulent, supple, and pillowy."

"Personally," Ben said, "I think at least one of the words should be buhbuhbuhbuh."
and beautiful:
Margo, as always, biked standing up, her arms locked as she leaned above the handlebars, her purple sneakers a circuitous blur. It was a steam-hot day in March. The sky was clear, but the air tasted acidic, like it might storm later.

Margo is really what the story revolves around. She is that magic someone who exists as a character for everyone around her, even though she is a living, breathing person. In this coming of age story, a young person must learn that other people exist as something other than as a character in his own story. Green creates real contemporary teenage characters, but he gets well beyond ABC Family cardboard cutouts and make real people of the expected types - arty iconoclast, bully, nerd, spoiled princess - his psychological insights are deep but not embarrassing. He puts real words in his characters' mouths - they swear and have real recognizable teenage urges, but not in a gratuitous way. The final 90 pages are a tension-filled road trip that also had me laughing so hard that I was glad I was reading the book at home. Green created a literal mystery plot that houses a more metaphysical mystery, the mystery of our identity. I really love how he made use of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass as both a clue to solving the mystery and a meditation on the notion of becoming someone else. Finally I so enjoyed the numerous ways Green makes use of the notion of a paper town, I won't ruin it for you by writing about it. Read this book. It is a delight.

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