And now we come to the book-to-movie adaptation from one half of my inspiration for this series. Oh, John Green. I have such complicated feelings about you as an author. Excellent feelings about you as a human being, but as an author, just…complicated.
This is also the only book on this year’s movie list that I had read before starting this project. I did re-read it, though, to ensure a clear memory of its details. It was basically exactly how I remembered it, which is to say disjointed yet oddly charming.
The Book: Paper Towns by John Green
First impressions: Like I mentioned above, my feelings about John Green as an author are complicated, mainly because I just don’t find his work very impressive. The Fault in Our Stars is easily his best novel, both in terms of readability, and on a sheer writing mechanics level. But Paper Towns? Well, Paper Towns is the sloppiest version of his dorky-boy-loves-manic-pixie-dream-girl standard plot. What makes it so sloppy is how hard it’s trying to subvert that narrative, even though it fits the model exactly.
Paper Towns follows Quentin/”Q” through his last few weeks of high school, which he spends trying to find Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door Margo Roth Spiegelman, who he once found a dead body with as a child and who took him on some brilliant adventure and then disappeared before graduation. The story is broken up into four distinct sections, with the baby-Q-and-Margo-find-a-dead-body prologue (which has very little to do with anything that happens later), the whirlwind adventure across Orlando section, the looking-for-Margo section, and then, finally, the epic-road-trip-to-find-Margo section. These different sections do not flow well into one another. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that Q spends all of them whining in his self-important head.
It’s suppose to be a novel about learning to imagine other people complexly, but at no point does Q actually learn this lesson. He ends the novel still idealizing Margo, and still failing to understand his many friends and enemies who populate the rest of the narrative. I hate Q. Q can suck it. I’d much rather read a book about his friend Radar, who delivers the only worthwhile piece of advice in the whole book when he says, “You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves.” Unfortunately, he says this in defense of Ben, who is easily the most obnoxious character in the book. Sigh.
That said, while the plot and characterizations suffer horrendously, the quippy dialogue is entertaining enough, in true John Green fashion. I just wish there were more going on than Q pining after a girl who’s already forgotten him.
Will it adapt?: No. This book’s structure is awkward and disjointed as a novel, and in movie form it’s going to be even worse. Bending a four-act novel where the third act is just a teenager moping and not solving puzzles for three weeks into a movie is a nigh-Herculean task, and frankly, I don’t see how you could do it without basically re-writing the entire story. Which they might still do, so, I guess there’s that possibility. It sure could use a re-write.
Should I read it?: It’s worth reading, and won’t take you very long. It’s certainly better as a book than it’s going to be as a movie. Although I’d recommending reading The Fault in Our Stars and just stopping there.
Yours in two dimensions,
“The rules of capitalization are so unfair to words in the middle of a sentence.” -contrived character detail to make solving the mystery easier for Q
This post is part of my I Read It First series.