Paper Towns: Revisited

My sophomore year of college I read a John Green book called Paper Towns and wrote a none-too-complimentary review of it here. Now, two and a half years later, said book has been made into a movie (which is fabulous, by the way, you should definitely watch it – after you read the book of course), prompting me to reread the thoughts I’d had upon finishing the book. In 2013, my biggest problem with the book was its perpetuation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character type. The fact that the entire plot of the book revolved around a girl who everyone thought they knew but no one actually did left a bad taste in my mouth. After leaving the movie theater there was no bad taste, quite the opposite in fact. I thought the movie did an excellent job of destroying the MPDG and showing that the real Margo Roth Spiegleman was nothing like what Q had made her out to be. I would be interested to reread the book and see if I still get a bad taste, and the movie was just that much better at explaining the concept and subsequently unraveling it, or if I find that I somehow missed the point the first time around. I have a strong suspicion it would be the latter. I like to think that in the two and a half years since I wrote that review I have grown immensely as a person, become a better critical thinker (If I haven’t then thousands of dollars and hours were wasted for that Political Science bachelors because let me tell you I have no “practical” skills) and gained more understanding of the world and people around me. What saddens me now is that as this story reaches a wider audience, there might be more people like 19-year-old me who misconstrue the ultimate message of Paper Towns. John recently wrote an article on Medium about Paper Towns press that addresses this issue:

Like, there’s a line in the beginning of the novel: “Everyone gets a miracle.” The male narrator of the story believes his miracle is Margo Roth Spiegelman, the character Cara plays in the movie. Later in the book, the boy realizes that Margo is not a miracle, that she is just a person, and that his imagining her as a miracle has been terribly hurtful to them both. But still, I was asked over a hundred times, “Who’s your miracle?” At first, I tried to fight it, tried to argue that we must see people as people, that we must learn to imagine them complexly instead of idealizing them, that the romantic male gaze is limiting and destructive to women. That’s the whole point of the story to me.

John, I get it now! I understand now that writing about something doesn’t have to mean perpetuating it, that writing about something could bring it to the attention of someone who had never thought about it before. I understand now that the point of Paper Towns isn’t to glorify the MPDG, but to challenge readers (and watchers) to imagine others complexly. This is not a retraction of my previous post – in fact, I still agree with almost everything I wrote, and I’m proud of 19-year-old Megan for thinking about the oppressive societal standards women live under – but a reflection. I’ve heard movie production for Looking For Alaska is moving right along, so we’ll see if I need to write another one of these after seeing its adaptation. I for one hope so.

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2 responses to “Paper Towns: Revisited

  1. Interesting to hear that you liked the film more than the book- that doesn’t usually happen to readers! I didn’t enjoy reading Paper Towns (or many of Green’s other books) either, so I was curious to know if Margo’s selfish character would be portrayed differently on film. I still can’t decide if I should watch the movie or not…

    • It’s not necessarily that I liked it better, I liked it as a companion to the book. For me it complemented and highlighted the themes of the book really well and, obviously, helped me understand it better. If you’re curious I’d say it’s worth a RedBox at least!

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