In the course of three novels geared toward young adults it has become clear that there are certain things one should always expect in a John Green novel. First, that it will feature at least two lovable losers front and center – intelligent, hyper-articulate guys who just can’t seem to get it (or keep it) together. One of the things complicating their lives is inevitably female trouble, usually in the form of a troubled girl whose indomitable spirit and rebellious antics have the power to save and destroy them. Undoubtedly, she’s got a screw loose (not to mention a wildly self destructive bent) but her power to captivate and seduce keeps them in her thrall. And finally, one should always expect a wicked sense of humor; I’m not one to laugh out loud at books all that often, and Green gets me more than once in each of his books, particularly this latest novel, Paper Towns (there’s nothing so subversively naughty as the sexual encounter in Looking for Alaska, but there is the typical abundance of one-liners, such as one character getting described as having “hit puberty but never hit it very hard.”).
Fans of Green’s novels may be disappointed in Paper Towns because of its striking similarities to Looking for Alaska, and they would be right to be unnerved by the same-sameness. Margo Roth Spiegelman, the indomitable female presence here, is essentially Alaska 2.0 (Margo’s self destructiveness coming out in a desperate need to run away instead of Alaska’s alcoholism being the key separation). There are also similarities to An Abundance of Katherines – one of the lovable losers, for example, rather suddenly (and totally inexplicably) lands a hot girlfriend.
It would be all too easy to worry that Green may has written himself into a box that he may never escape, but the fact of the matter is that Paper Towns is still quite an enjoyable ride – and while it may be very similar to Looking For Alaska, I for one actually think this novel smooths out some of the kinks that annoyed me about that previous novel. I won’t worry until I see what Green does next. Because I will definitely be looking forward to it.