I recently finished reading two books, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. Both are written by one of my favorite people in the world, John Green. However, their subject matter is not my favorite.
In each of these books, John uses the character type generally referred to as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). Wikipedia defines the MPDG as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
The protagonists of these books, Pudge and Quentin, are both high school boys who become infatuated with their “dream girls” — Alaska for Pudge and Margo Roth Spiegelman for Q. In Looking for Alaska, Pudge starts at a new boarding school where he meets Alaska and quickly becomes bewitched by her. Q has lived next door to Margo for years, but has only admired her from afar. Both of these girls are mysterious, and although the boys realize that, neither tries to find out why that is. Both are too focused on their own desires and the fact that Alaska or Margo might be interested in them that they fail to see how broken these girls are.
When Alaska dies tragically, Pudge realizes how much he really didn’t know about her. He starts digging and finally sees what he should have seen before — that Alaska was a deeply broken girl that needed to be truly loved as a friend, not put on a pedestal that no girl, no person, deserves to be put on. When Margo disappears, Quentin decides that she’s left him this elaborate trail to follow, when the truth is that she has no desire to be found. He’s so obsessed with the idea that this girl needs him that he can’t see there’s something legitimately wrong.
Our society as a whole has really embraced the whole MPDG idea. Women are constantly being held to standards that they could never hope to reach — be thin but not too thin, have sex but don’t be a slut, be educated but don’t be a nerd, the list goes on and on. Even though Pudge and Q see their illusions shattered at the end of their respective books, simply writing the MPDG character is perpetuating the concept. This is one of the reason’s I like The Fault in Our Star, John’s most recent book, so much more than these. Hazel and Augustus, the two main characters, know what they’re getting into. They may overlook each other’s faults, as many teenagers in love do, but Gus never holds Hazel up to his own unattainable ideas.
I personally liked Paper Towns better than Looking for Alaska, but both books seem to promote an idea that I’m completely uncomfortable with. If you want to read John Green, go for Will Grayson, Will Grayson or The Fault in Our Stars, which no one can go wrong with. These promote much more positive messages and don’t wrap a broken character with a bow of perfection.