Cover of Paper Towns, with a white girl from the neck up with dark hair and a skeptical expression

About the Book

Title: Paper Towns
Published: 2008
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit, Dude!
Bonus Factors: Geeks, Road Trip, Urban Exploration, Black Santas
Relationship Status: Totally My Best Guy Friend

The Deal:

When I was in high school, I had a major crush on this stoner dude whose locker was always two down from mine. He seemed So Cool and Vaguely Dangerous and I couldn’t vouch for his brain cells which to most people was probably a turn-off but in my mind it just made him even MORE like Jordan Catalano, i.e. YOUR ILLITERACY IS NO MATCH FOR OUR BURNING LOVE!!!! Anyway, I used to fantasize about le crush showing up at my door and taking me on this wild adventure full of minor law-breaking and eccentric hijinks, and he’d realize how cool I was in spite of being a goody-goody, and then we’d watch the sun rise and slow-mo kiss and… yeah. That never happened. He actually dropped out of high school before I got up the nerve to talk to him, which was actually very Catalano of him! Well done, stoner guy of my dreams!

Anyhoo the POINT is that my fantasy actually happens to Quentin Jacobsen. One night, his long time crush (and childhood bestie) Margo Roth Spiegelman shows up at his window and convinces him to accompany her on an all night escapade of revenge-fueled pranks and secret confessions. Y’all, this basically BLOWS QUENTIN’S MIND. See, until that monumental night, he was just your average cute but geeky senior, dating girls in band and hanging out with his besties, the super immature but lovable Ben and the smarty pants, (fictional version of) Wikipedia-obsessed Radar. Margo’s dramatic entrance (and subsequent exit) fractures Quentin’s everyday life and ultimately leads him on a quest to find Margo and, you guessed it, DISCOVER HIMSELF!

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

I love me some Quentin Jacobsen!! In fact, he is now a close second to Tom Henderson (King Dork) as the YA Male Protagonist I Might Have a Crush On Even Though It Would Be Creepy In The Real World. Quentin is a geek, but he’s the cool kind of geek (see Bonus Factors below) who loves being smart but also appreciates a good “That’s what she said.” Sweet and earnest, he still has enough confidence to avoid the Michael Cera Manchild Trap, and I adored being inside his slightly neurotic, extremely clever mind. I also gotta throw in two more charms for Ben and Radar, cos um they are the best sidekicks EVER. They pretty much personify the two types of friends you need in life: the kind that can carry on an intelligent, thoughtful conversation (Radar) and the kind that can entertain you at parties by doing stupid shizz (Ben).

A lot of the credit for this BFFery should go (obvs) to John Green, for crafting such an authentic voice for Quentin and his posse. I kind of suspect that John Green actually IS Quentin, at least in part, what with his nerdfighting and witty tweeting. At any rate, it was refreshing for me to read a male POV that was super relatable and, well, you know, not gross. Cos sometimes teenage boys are gross you guys.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

I know I just got done saying that I totally connected with Quentin, and I really did, but that doesn’t mean that boys are the same as girls. In this case, I’m talking about the fact that boys just don’t really swoon. Sure, Quentin had some super tingly times with Margo, and I really enjoyed those moments, but y’all it’s just not the saaaaaaaame. In fact I think it would be kind of weird to read about a boy admiring some girl’s like, marble cheekbones and shizz. So yeah, I’m ok with this book not being super swoonworthy, cos that’s really not the point.

Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit, Dude!

There’s a reason why John Green has won, like, a billion writing awards. The man knows how to write teenage characters, and there wasn’t any moment where I thought, “Wow, THAT was unrealistic.” Allow me to share with you one of the many, many awesome exchanges that take place between Quentin and his friends (this conversation occurs when Ben asks Quentin for advice after kissing his new girlfriend, Lacey):

“As far as I can tell, there are two basic rules. 1. Don’t bite anything without permission, and 2. The human tongue is like wasabi: it’s very powerful. and should be used sparingly.”

Ben’s eyes suddenly grew bright with panic. I winced, and said, “She’s standing behind me, isn’t she?”

“‘The human tongue is like wasabi,'” Lacey mimicked in a deep, goofy voice that I hoped didn’t really resemble mine. I wheeled around. “I actually think Ben’s tongue is like sunscreen,” she said. “It’s good for your health and should be applied liberally.”

“I just threw up in my mouth,” Radar said.

“Lacey, you just kind of took away my will to go on,” I added.

“I wish I could stop imagining that,” Radar said.

I said, “The very idea is so offensive that it’s actually illegal to say the words ‘Ben Starling’s tongue’ on television.”

“The penalty for violating that law is either ten years in prison or one Ben Starling tongue bath,” Radar said.

“Everyone,” I said.

“Chooses,” Radar said, smiling.

“Prison,” we finished together.

Um, yeah. Like I said. The writing in this book is 4 REALZ HIGHLARIOUS.

Bonus Factor: Geeks

Three nerdy looking boys in the school hallway from Freaks and Geeks

Geeks are obvs the new cool kids, even though no one seems to have informed high schoolers of this fact.

Bonus Factor: Road Trip

Happy Couple Driving on Country Road in Classic Vintage Sports Car

I don’t want to get too spoilery on you, but Quentin & Co. end up on totally spontaneous road trip mission, aka my favorite part of the book. John Green evokes that whole “our car is our home” feeling while liberally applying lots of ridiculousness involving your garden variety of driving dilemmas. You know, like the desperate need to pee. And also cows!

Bonus Factor: Urban Exploration

Margo is already a pretty cool chick, but the fact that she likes to hang out in abandoned strip malls makes her this close to Katniss Level Badassery. I’m a sucker for forgotten old buildings (the house on Loon Lake, anyone?!!), and I wish Green had figured out a way to also include a creepy old mental hospital, just cos I think they are so cool and I am WAY too much of a weenie to explore one in real life.

Inside of a big crumbling abandoned stone building with rotted floor and graffiti on the wall

Margo is already a pretty cool chick, but the fact that she likes to hang out in abandoned strip malls makes her this close to Katniss Level Badassery. I’m a sucker for forgotten old buildings (the house on Loon Lake, anyone?!!), and I wish Green had figured out a way to also include a creepy old mental hospital, just cos I think they are so cool and I am WAY too much of a weenie to explore one in real life.

Bonus Factor: Black Santas

Screenshot from Paper Towns of a Black Santa doll on a shelf

I’ll just… leave it at that.

Relationship Status: Totally My Best Guy Friend

Paper Towns is definitely my favorite of John Green’s novels so far. Like any good friend-who-happens-to-be-a-boy, it was great for laughs but also wasn’t afraid to Get Serious and even, like, acknowledge emotions! I had an awesome time hanging out with it, and when I think back on our adventures together, I’ll totally crack up and be like, “Oh Paper Towns, I love you!” but I’ll mean that in a platonic sense, cos while this book is my boy friend, it’s not my, you know, boyfriend. I just don’t think of it that way, ok?

FTC Full Disclosure: I checked this book out from the library. I received neither cocktails nor compensation for this review.

Sarah splits her time between Dallas and Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.