Paper Towns Review #3

Green, John. Paper Towns. New York, New York: Dutton Group (a member of Penguin Group), 2008.


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Paper Towns is a useful piece of Young Adult literature for a high school English teacher's classroom. This mystery novel is multi-layered, easily relatable, thought-provoking, interesting and full of literary conventions; plot development, voice, story structure, theme, foreshadowing, metaphore, symbolism, and character are just a few. A teacher could easily use this book for a variety of lessons and with a diverse group of students.
The Prologue of the book gives the background of the two main characters' relationship and describes a poignant moment in both their lives. Q and his neighbor and friend, Margo, find a dead body in the park when they are nine. This incident helps to define our two main characters and sets up our plot, setting, and gives us our first theme. When Margo sets out to solve the mystery of the dead guy they found she theorizes that, “maybe all the strings inside him broke” (p. 8). The theme of strings breaking is carried throughout the book. This prologue and character introduction sets up the rest of the book like a classic prologue should. Students can make predictions of what they think will happen, why they think he may have died or journal about how they would feel if they found a dead body in the park at age nine. The prologue ends with the literary convention of foreshadowing, “Margo always loved mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.” (p. 8)
The book is broken into three parts, plus the prologue. In the first section of the book the author develops the characters and creates the scene. The second part takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery with the narrator through the mystery plot. And the third section is the climax, where the mystery is solved and the main character and reader get some answers. This format is easy to follow and keeps young readers engaged.
Our two main characters, Margo and Q, experience a night of risk and revenge orchestrated by Margo. This event sparks the conflict in the book after which Margo goes missing. Q, along with his buddies, and Margo’s friend Lacey set out to follow her clues, and solve the mystery that is Margo Roth Spiegelman. In Part One students can examine how the author develops the plot and characters. They could also look at why the author split the book into sections, and discuss what the titles of the sections mean.
One of the biggest Metaphors in the book is that of the title, "Paper Towns". Margo mentions this idea the night before her disappearance and Q tries to figure out what she meant throughout his search for her. He finally discovers that she is referring to an actual town that was created by map makers, a real paper town, this of course is where he finds Margo. The paper town specifically mentioned in the book is Agloe, NY. Agloe is a real copyright trap. At the end of the book Margo describes why she chose the paper town and what it meant to her “People love the idea of a paper girl. They always have. And the worst thing is that I loved it too. I cultivated it, you know?” (p. 293).
"Paper Towns" is the type of novel that appeals to teens because it is written from a teen’s perspective with themes and characters they can relate to.
Recommendations for Teachers

As well as being easy to relate to this book can be used for teachers to teach HSCEs. Almost everyone has had a secret or not-so-secret crush. This would be a good book for secondary level students. The book includes themes like revenge, heartbreak, suicide, running away, challenging oneself, and the idea that people have many different sides to them and are much more three-dimensional than even those close may realize.

The author creates a high school environment or setting that is stereotypical. Students could examine their own high school and compare it to the one in the book, “The first bell rang, meaning five minutes to class, and like Pavlov’s dogs, people started rushing around, filling up the hallways” (p. 87). Again the theme of strings is carried throughout. When Q is speaking with the detective regarding Margo, her disappearance and their night of hi-jinks, the detective says, “But once that string gets cut, kid, you can’t uncut it. Do you get what I’m saying?” (p. 105). Students could keep a journal about the theme of strings, what do they represent, what is their significance to the story and the characters? In Part Two, The Grass, Q begins to discover clues he believes Margo has left for him. One of these clues is the poem of Leaves Of Grass, by Walt Whitman. This would be a great opportunity for a teacher to connect a modern story that students can relate to, to a classic work and author like Whitman. There are several themes and metaphors that the author carries throughout the book that come directly from the poem itself. Q uses the poem to try and figure out Margo, and in doing so he learns about himself and life in general, “The grass was so many different things at one…a metaphor for life, and for death, and for equality…thinking about the grass and all the different ways you can see it made me think about all the ways I’d seen and mis-seen Margo.” (p. 173).

This would be a great book to engage the reader using Jeffrey Wilhelm's approach to classroom research methods in You Gotta BE the Book: Teacher Journal, Literary Letters, Symbolic Story Representation, and Think-Aloud Protocols: Free-Response Protocols, Cued-Response Protocols, Two-Column Protocols, Written Protocols, and Visual Protocols. Especially since the work would be cut out for the teacher; there are discussion questions listed right in the back of the book


(Caution: Spoiler Alert):
· When Margo and Quentin are nine, they make a horrible discovery and respond in very different ways. Quentin says, “As I took those two steps back, Margo took two equally small and quiet steps forward” (p.5). Do these descriptions still apply to the characters when they reach high school? When the story ends? What changes?
· Describe Q’s best friends. Where do they fit into the caste system of Winter Park High? IF you had to choose one of the characters as your best friend who would you pick? Why?
· How does Quentin struggle at times with his friendship with Ben? How does Q learn to accept Ben for who he is? How does this relate to Q’s changing understanding of Margo?
· Why do you think Margo picks Q as her accomplice eon her campaign of revenge?
· Do you think the characters Margo targets for revenge get what they deserve? Does Lacey deserved to be included?
· When Margo disappears after her outing with Q, it’s not the first time she’s seemingly vanished for a long period. Describe Margo’s other adventures and note any common threads between the trips. What makes her disappearance after her night with Q different from the others?
· When Margo disappears, she’s always been known to leave “a bit of a bread crumb trail.” What clues does Margo leave for Quentin? How are these different from he clues left previously?
· Do you think Margo wants to be found? Do you think Margo wants to be found by Q?
· Why does Quentin begin to believe that Margo may have committed suicide? What clues make this seem like a viable solution to the mystery of her whereabouts?
· Describe Q’’s tour of the various abandoned subdivisions he visits on his quest to find Margo. How are they different? How might theses differences parallel the evolution of Q’s search?
· Discuss what Q finds in the abandoned minimall and how the book contributes both to the plot of the story and what he ultimately learns about Margo and about himself.
· Discuss the road trip to find Margo. What are the most important events along the way? How does this adventure mirror the one Margo and Quentin had in the beginning of the book? Compare and contrast the two.
· Discuss the scene where Q finally finds Margo. How does her reaction to seeing her friends make you feel? Do you believe that she didn’t want to Q to come after her?
· Why do you think Q makes the decision he does at the end of the book? Do you agree with his decision to turn down Margo’s invitation?
· The definition of a “paper town” changes many times in the book. Describe the evolution of its meaning. How does it relate to the mystery? To the themes of the book?
· With which characters’ version of the “real” Margo do you most agree?
· Do you think that Margo meant to give her friends a false impression of her true self?
· Q’s parents describe people as “mirrors” and “windows” (p. 199). What does this mean? Do you agree with this metaphor?
· Q comes to this conclusion (p. 199): “Margo was not a miracle. She was an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.” Discuss.
· The book is divided into three sections: The Strings; The Grass; and The Vessel. What is the connection between the sections/titles and the content within those sections? How do the sections/titles connect to the themes of the book?
· Which philosophy of life do you most agree with: Margo’s Strings? Whitman’s Grass? Or Q’s Cracked Vessel? Why?
· At different times, both Margo and Q use lines of poetry without considering the context of the whole poem. How do you think this changes the meaning?
· Q is reading Moby Dick in his English class. How does it appear elsewhere in Q’s story?
· Q’s interpretation and understand of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” changes as the mystery progresses. What are the different phases of his understanding? Do you agree with his final conclusion about the poem’s meaning?
· The book opens with two epigraphs, a poem and a song. Why do you think the author chose these? Why do you think he chose to use them together?
· Another common term for a “paper town” is a “copyright trap.” Can you find examples of others? What are some other terms for copyright traps?
· Discuss the last line of the book, how it relates to the rest of the story, and what it ultimately says about Margo and Q’s relationship.

John Green has a knack for writing thought provoking novels. He is a good author with books that would be great for classroom use. There is some graphic depictions in some of his books, so parental permission should be ensured. However, they could be a very educational tool to teach.


About John Green
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John Green (born August 24, 1977) is the Michael L. Printz Award-winning author of Looking for Alaska (2005) and An Abundance of Katherines (2006). His release of Paper Towns (2008), which he is presently writing a screenplay for, was called New York Times bestseller and also won the 2009 Edgar Award. He has worked for Booklist Magazine in Chicago where he reviewed a variety of different books—from picture books and romance novels about Confucius to books about Islam and conjoined twins (one of his many interest). His criticism also appeared in the New York Times Book Reviews. He has, likewise, written for National Public Radio’s “All things Considered,” and Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ. During his childhood he has lived in places such as Michigan, Alabama, Illinois, and Orlando, Florida, which gave him the enviromental experience for the setting of Paper Towns. He graduated from Kenyon College in 2000 with a double major in English and Religious Studies.
At the age of 33, Green has already attracted the attention of his young adult readers emerging them into honest and engaging stories that they, and adults, can relate to. His fresh language, wittiness, and personality are sown into Paper Towns –from his characters, to the music his characters listen to (The Mountain Goats, his all-time favorite band). His attention to detail, sense of humor, and well thought out character choices make his novels more true to nature and an enjoyable read.
Green not only enjoys writing and reading, he also enjoys making video blogs with his brother Hank Green. Together they created a project calledBrotherhood 2.0. Their video blogs are available to the public via YouTube and the Brotherhood 2.0 website, they are known as the “vlogbrothers”. Through these video blogs, the Green brothers have come up with a group called “Nerdfighters” often referred to as “Nerdfighteria,” who raises money and awareness for important causes while offering a community of supportive friends who enjoy laughter and life. Their main objective is decreasing “world suck”. “In the contemporary world where things fall apart and the center cannot hold you have to imagine a community where there is no center... A lot of life is about doing things that don’t suck with people who don’t suck.” This group loves free speech, encourage thoughtful discussions, creations of friendships, and free expressions of one’s beliefs and opinions with respect to other people.
Aside from his career, John Green resides in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife, Sara, his son Henry also known as “Bubbles the Nerdfighting baby”, and his dog , a West Highland Terrier, named Willy (full name Fireball Wilson Roberts).

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Author John Green answers a few questions about his book Paper Towns:


A reading of a snipet of Paper Towns by John Green that allows us to see how the story plays out in the author's own voice:




Additional Resources:


-- Katherine Dobson, Colleen Atkinson, Danielle Ballantyne, Cathie Jean, Ashlie Spisak