Monday, October 27, 2008

The quest for Margo Roth Spiegelman

John Green must get fairly tired of adult readers (i.e., librarians) waxing on about what a hottie he is, so I shall get straight to the audio version of his third book, Paper Towns. Quentin Jacobson has grown up suburban in central Florida and is about to graduate from high school. He is of the geeky population -- Q hangs out with band members and best friends Ben and Radar. He used to be chums with his next door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, but she has left him behind in her seemingly effortless attainment of high school popularity. But late one night Margo appears in ninja costume and makeup at Q's bedroom window and enlists him as her driver on an all-night blitz of revenge -- ostensibly because her boyfriend slept with another girl, but it's way more than that.

The next few days at school, it becomes clear that Margo has disappeared. Some people fear suicide, but it appears that she's left Q some clues to her whereabouts: Woody Guthrie leads to Walt Whitman leads to pseudovisions leads to paper towns. A pseudovision is a proposed subdivision that never got completed; a paper town is an imaginary location on a printed map designed to protect copyright.

Paper Towns is quite beautifully constructed -- like a folktale, it's full of threes: Part one is Quentin and Margo's pranking all-nighter, part two is Q deciphering and following Margo's clues, and part three is a quite funny 20-hour road trip in a graduation-present minivan where Q, Ben, Radar, and Margo's best friend Lacey, skip out of graduation in order to find Margo before she leaves for her next destination (would that destination be death?). The book is full of smart teenagers making all kinds of conversations, situations that would make most teenagers laugh out loud (Margo's pranks, a drunken prom afterparty, that road trip), and an underlying message that can be quite thoughtful and provocative. All John Green trademarks, I think. I know I've enjoyed them in his other titles.

I raced through the audiobook in about four days; John Green does create such interesting people and puts them in nicely fascinating situations that getting to the end is imperative. The reader is Dan John Miller, someone I've never heard before, and I gotta say that I was missing Jeff Woodman. Now I know this isn't fair, or even appropriate, but Miller just never sounded like a teenager. He certainly imbued Quentin with intelligence and snarky humor, but I didn't hear a lot of insecurity or really get a sense of his deep, twisted relationship with Margo.

He created distinctive characters in Ben (too loud) and Radar (uncomfortably to me, this African American character was the only one with a Southern accent); and he was also pretty good at girls -- not too high or swishy sounding, but definitely different than the boys. The novel has some sections comprised of chat transcripts, which are just deadly to listen to,; however, I did get a charge out of everyone's user names (in particular, "itwasakidneyinfection," a joke you'll have to read the book to get), just not over and over again.

I really wanted to like this more. I spent much of the last hour or so trying very hard to hear amazing moments, but I really couldn't. I listened to the last disc again. I kept saying to myself, well ... this is pretty good. I think I've decided though that it's not good enough.

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