When you’re younger, not-quite-grown, and a little hazy from cheap beer, you have these talks with nameless friends you’ll never see after graduation. They’re packed with half-baked ideas and notions about the world, youthful expectations and a churlish resentment for all the future holds. A fear that you’ll end up like your parents, who aren’t yet – in your mind – real people with real thoughts and real dreams.
Paper Towns by John Green is that talk. It’s that tipsy night, when you’re naive and foolish and assume it’s simple to change the world and not be unchanged by it.
We first meet Quentin and Margo, kids on bikes with grass-stained knees, when they find a dead body. Years later, gangly, awkward and hormone-driven, Margo vanishes. She leaves clues behind. No one really knows Margo, this ‘manic-pixie-dream-girl’, and all but Quentin want to find her, but he may not like it when he does.
Reading the story as an adult conjures those brittle, half-forgotten seventeen-year-old-moments. It’s true Young Adult fiction, recalling a time when there was less to worry about because people – adults – worried about it for you. It forces you to realise you’re closer to Captain Hook than Peter Pan. Perhaps growing up starts when you finally become friends with your parents, see them as human, when your life becomes little goals – solid job, mortgage, boyfriend, security.
All this I already knew and accepted, but John Green’s writing style drags it back, makes you pick at that scabbed-over little part of your mind, where the teenager used to be, to see if any ounce of Margo Roth Spiegelman is in there, bags packed, urging you to leave it all behind and plan an adventure.