Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Actually reviewing a book instead of Doctor Who

I was asked by Mia to review this when I told her I bought Paper Towns, and because it’s a book she has yet to read but is seriously looking forward to I was also asked to keep it relatively spoiler free so I’ve done my best in that respect.

Still, I feel it’s important to give a brief overview of the story, so limiting to basically what the back cover tells you, here’s the nutshell: Quentin (protag) and his next door neighbour, Margo Roth Spiegelman, are pretty good friends as little ones but jump cut to high school and they don’t really hang out anymore and also he is totally crushing on her. She shows up at his window one night, hijinks and hilarity ensue, and then suddenly she disappears and leaves behind a string of clues for Q to follow.

Ordinarily I hate drawing comparisons between authors, but one thought which popped into my head early on was that John Green is like Terrance Dicks. The more I think about it the more I realise that comparison doesn’t really work particularly well, but it refuses to leave my mind. About the only point I can’t find examples that shatter the comparison would be the fact that both authors have a really, seriously addictive voice, or writing style, or whatever you want to call it. Even if nothing in particular is going on, I found myself wholly engaged and not wanting to put the book down. Even in the very early stages of the book I was hooked, which outside of Terrance Dicks happens very rarely for me. So I think that’s probably where my mind is drawing that comparison from.

I think the weakest point of the book is the prologue. It’s not dull per se, but it somehow lacks the same captivating quality as the rest of the book. I paused once during the prologue and set the book down briefly after reading it to do other things, mostly because transatlantic flights are long and I didn’t want to breeze through it so quickly. When I got to the first chapter proper, I was hooked from the first sentence and no longer cared if I finished the book before my flight was over (I didn’t finish it). I’m not sure why this is. Reading it back again it still strikes as being just...less than the rest of the narrative if that makes sense, but it’s still well written and while not exactly pivotal, is important to the rest of the narrative, so no skipsies.

The mystery is a bit grand and at times one has to wonder just how much time was spent preparing certain steps of it (from an in-universe perspective, I mean), but it still comes across as something which could conceivably be done. It’s easy to see why this book won an Edgar. It’s not a mystery in the sense that as with Agatha Christie or some of Conan Doyle one is veritably invited to attempt to solve the mystery first, but the mystery here is well constructed and if a lot of thought didn’t go into planning it, then someone please make sure John Green never turns to a life of crime, because I am afraid of his mystery-on-the-fly abilities. I doubt this is the case though.

Also to his credit, as noted above, it comes across very naturally; like a high school senior really could pull this off. I read a lot of crime fiction and while I’ve read some mighty good mysteries, often times even the best ones require a lot more suspension of disbelief than this does.

There is a moment which I’m tempted to say is early on but looking at it it’s actually a decent way into the book, but anyway, there is a moment where the narrative briefly switches to present tense. I found it mildly jarring for the first sentence or two, and had it happened earlier in the book I would probably label it as a bit random, but by this point there’s enough book behind us to know that this is done very, incredibly deliberately and certainly very effectively. Not to say that the section cannot be pulled off in past tense, but present gives it just a little extra oomph.

The characters, too, are handled very well. They all feel real and the majority of them are three dimensional. Those that aren’t are properly more flat, because why should the somewhat nerdy kid have an accurate picture of the people who like to make his life hell? Not all of the characters are inherently likable either, which is a wise touch. I don’t read a lot of YA but of what I had read there’s a bit of a trend to make the hero and his/her friends tres likable, and honestly if these characters were real I can think of one of the protag’s friends I would probably want to punch in the face, which is how it can get with friends sometimes.

I have to say I wasn’t expecting John Green to be this good. I didn’t expect him to be bad by any means, and while I’m not in love with his writing to the point that I feel compelled to run out and buy everything he’s ever written threefold I did enjoy it immensely. Would I feel the same had Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines been the one closest to me as I walked through the YA section to get to the cash register and pay for the two books I had actually intended to buy? Hard to say. Certainly I think I would still be really engrossed in the books because his writing is seriously that addictive, but I think maybe the fact that this one was a mystery also added a bit of fuel to my gunning through it like a steam engine that’s been injected with cocaine, if that bizarre simile were somehow actually possible.

Definitely worth picking it up if you haven’t already.


  1. HOORAY! OMG, REALLY? It sounds really really good, actually. I love the pitch, the idea of this kind of mystery.


  2. I actually just ordered this two days ago! I'm really looking forward to it based on someone else's love of his books.
    Thanks for the review!

  3. :)

    glad you like. would suck if it sucked after the way you were when you bought it :p