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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

"Paper Towns" by John Green

This is a teen novel set in the US. The hero, Q, is in his last year of high school. One night his next door neighbour, Margo Roth Spiegelman, whom he adores from afar, takes him for a whirlwind all-nighter of revenge on her boyfriend who is cheating with her best friend. The next day she has disappeared. Q, with his nerdy friends Radar, obsessed with editing Onmictionary, and Ben, obsessed with losing his virginity, have to solve the clues that Margo has left to find her, or her dead body.

This book has an unusual structure. After a prologue of a few pages when 9-year-olds Q and Margo find a dead guy in the local park, there are 13 pages of setting the scene and introducing the characters during a day at school followed by the revenge night which continues for about 60 pages. We are now a quarter of the way through the book and we have been having fun, even though very little has actually happened. Then Margo disappears although no one really worries about that for another 15 pages. Then the clue hunt starts and goes on for another 36 pages before a clue is found which can move the narrative on and we are now nearly half way through. But the last clue points to a deserted minimall at Q is convinced that all the clues are a way of Margo telling him where to find her dead body after she has committed suicide and so the three friends break into the derelict minimall. At this point I was so excited I had to keep my eyes firmly on the left hand page because I wanted but dreaded what might be written on the right hand page. This was as exciting as the middle of the brilliant Room and again it was more or less bang in the centre of the book. But then we enter a phase where nothing much happens again. We have a very funny bit where Ben gets very drunk at the prom party and Q goes off him a bit but they plan to go to graduation naked underneath their gowns.  But the flatness extends for nearly a quarter of the book before Q finds the vital clue and he and his mates have to drive for twenty four hours in a camper van. The road trip is brilliant. There are some very funny moments and some moments of tension but there is very little contribution to the actual plot. Then comes the final ten per cent of the book which brings the bitter end.

So much for the plot. In many ways it was a stop start sort of book. There was enough to keep me going when the momentum flagged slightly. But it was episodic. The night of revenge did not seem to link up particularly well with 'Where's Margo' theme and the wonderful road trip was, in many ways, a separate event.

The characterisation was neatly done. They were introduced quickly and given more depth as and when they needed it. They had interesting story curves although they were rather dropped at the end of the book when they had served their usefulness.

There was plenty of humour. The way that it alternated with the tension was very clever. The three nerds, Q, Radar and Ben, laughed and joked like three really good mates, even though Q seemed to be the permanent outsider. There are some brilliant wisecracks:

  • "It's a penis," Margo said, "in the same sense that Rhode Island is a state: it may have an illustrious history but is sure isn't big."
  • When his therapist parents give Q a key for a new car and he goes outside and finds that it is a minivan just like his mum's and he is so disappointed that he thinks 'these people specialise in the analysis and understanding of the human psyche.'
  • After Q and Radar have restrained Ben who has attacked someone who called his girlfriend a bitch, Ben shouts: "I have a lot of anger right now! I was enjoying punching the guy! I want to go back to punching him!"

And there were moments when the images were wonderful: Radar, naked underneath his graduation gown, persuades Q to buy him a tee shirt in a fuel stop on the road trip. There are two problems with this: L means extra extra large in this state (Georgia) and it has a confederate flag on the front. Radar is black.

Flicking through it again I find that there are so many funny moments. When Ben has just kissed his girlfriend and asks Q for advice as to whether he did it right, Q tells him that "The human tongue is like wasabi: it's very powerful and should be used sparingly." He then discovers that Ben's girlfriend is standing behind him. She tells him that "Ben's tongue is like sunscreen ... It's good for your health and should be applied liberally." Wow. And wow and wow and wow.

This is a very funny comic novel with some very exciting moments and some tragic teenage angst. A great read.

September 2015; 306 pages

Another teen fiction book by the brilliant John Green is The Fault in Our Stars
You might also enjoy teen fiction The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky

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