“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.” This is high school senior Quentin Jacobsen, the protagonist of John Green’s newest novel, Paper Towns. Quentin, aka Q, has been in love with the beautiful Margo Roth Spiegelman since the two of them discovered a dead body in the park of their Orlando subdivision when they were nine years old. Now on very different paths (Q is an über-clever nerd, while Margo lives in the popular zone), she shows up at his bedroom window in the middle of the night for a funfilled night of revenge, thrills, and creative pranks. In the morning, Q drags himself to school, with hopes of exploring his new and improved relationship, but Margo has disappeared. Q is obsessed. If he wants to fulfill his fantasy, he’s got to find her. She has left a series of cryptic and clever clues that include Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the use of capitalization, and a place called Agloe. The question is: does she want to be found? And if not, will she still be alive when they find her? With the help of his friends, Radar and Ben, as well as Margo’s friend, Lacy, Q takes the reader on a road trip that is unexpected, full of heart, and laugh-out-loud funny. In Paper Towns, Green creates fully drawn band geeks, intellectuals and gamers. The dialogue is smart and sophisticated and if for no other reason than to see what they will do next, the reader stays put. Their journey is hilarious and heartfelt. Paper Towns does not contain Jewish content. Although both Margo and Q have Jewish names, the only time Judaism is mentioned is when Q thinks about saying Kaddish. But this is a book that smart Jewish readers should read. Showing Jewish kids in a secular story can and will bring them to the table to talk about Jewish issues. This novel can spur a discussion on a number of topics: death, suicide, revenge, acceptance, and forgiveness, and may even get some to open up Whitman. But more important, Paper Towns shows smart kids being smart, doing daring things. We see them following their interests and succeeding, even when corny. Q, Ben and Radar may not be popular, but they are friends. They are not outcasts. Girls like them, often for their brains. And that’s not a bad thing to talk about with our kids. This is a hero’s story, and highly recommended for readers 14 and up.
Sarah Aronson holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She is a full time writer and has recently published her first novel, Head Case (Roaring Brook) for young adults. Sara blogs every Thursday for the Lilith blog.