In Search of Paper Towns

John Green invites you on a journey in Paper Towns.
A journey of the mind, yes, but also an actual road trip
In search of Margo Roth Spiegelman.
What is a paper town?
Agloe, N.Y., is a paper town,
A fictional town created by cartographers,
That serves as a "copyright trap."
Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman?
The beautiful, magnetic, elusive obsession
Of Quentin Jacobsen, "Q,"
The narrator of John Green's third novel.
Q has lived next door to Margo since they were two,
In their Jefferson Park subdivision of Orlando, Fla.
He has been in love with her since they were nine.
On May 5, just before their graduation from high school,
Q spends a night with Margo that changes his life.
The next day, Margo disappears,
And Q realizes he has no idea who she really is
Or where she might have gone.
Margo does, however, leave behind a string of clues.
The first: A Woody Guthrie poster
Taped to the back of her window shade
That only Q can see from his bedroom window.
On the poster, the folksinger holds a guitar with a painted message,
"This machine kills fascists."
Margo's sister helps Q gain entry to Margo's room,
Where he and his buddies discover
Billy Bragg's album (an LP!) Mermaid Avenue,
With the exact same Guthrie image on the back cover.
A song on Bragg's album leads Q to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
In her copy, Margo has highlighted lines from "Song of Myself."
These lines provide additional clues.
(Among them: "You will hardly know who I am or what I mean"
And "I tramp a perpetual journey.")
Q sets aside the girl of his invention and,
With the help of his best friends, Ben and Radar,
Goes to great lengths to connect them
And to piece together a picture of the real Margo Roth Spiegelman.
At the end of July, a group of us traveled to
Grand Haven, Mich. (it is not a paper town),
For the taping of Paper Towns at Brilliance Audio.
Together we witnessed the many ways
That John Green reaches his readers.
This idea in Paper Towns of layering perceptions and details
Takes on greater meaning when you watch him with his audience.
In a round-table discussion with perhaps a dozen of them
And an audience of nearly 200 additional teens
At the Spring Lake [Mich.] District Library,
One teen tells Green that she read Paper Towns through once,
Then read Leaves of Grass and reread Paper Towns.
She pronounces that Green's novel was even better for
Having read Whitman.
Green is pleased: "The reason I wrote Paper Towns
Was to get people to read Whitman."
A student in the audience stands up and asks simply,
"Twain or Fitzgerald?"
"Twain is a bigger influence," answers Green soberly,
"Gatsby is the better work. No word is out of place in Gatsby."
Her question suggests an entire back-story.
Another audience member asks Green what it's like to work at home.
"Bleak," responds Green.
"The dog [Willie] was supposed to give me structure.
Nerdfighters has become my group of friends."
(More on Nerdfighters in a minute.)
When Green introduces to the audience Dan John Miller,
The narrator of the audiobook version of Paper Towns,
Green says, "My writing process
Involves reading aloud each new draft 50-100 times.
It's jarring when the phrasing on the audiobook
Is different from what's in your head; [with Dan] it's the same."
Although Miller and Green met for the first time in Grand Haven,
Green was already a fan of Blanche,
The "gothic-country garage band" that
Miller fronts with his wife, Tracee Mae Miller,
And also of his portrayal of
The Tennessee Two guitarist in the film Walk the Line.
Dan John Miller is a long, tall drink of water
Who can command a room of teenagers (and adults)
As he reads a racy section of the novel
(That Green often leaves out when he does readings;
One teen even thanks Miller for reading the text as written)
Then strums his guitar (no, it does not say, "This machine kills fascists"),
While lifting his powerful yet vulnerable voice
For his song, "Superstition" . . . ("Whenever I'm superstitious, it's bad luck").
On October 16, the laydown date for the book,
The audio version of Paper Towns will also release--
In six formats, including CD, MP-3, Overdrive, Audible and Playaway,
Available to teens in whatever form they prefer.
Green believes that audio is "intimate but collaborative."
He draws a parallel between the audiobook experience
And the visual experience of videoblogs:
"Videoblogs are community-oriented," he says,
"They are shaped by the viewer. TV is not."
The Web site Green established with his brother, Hank,
The two create videoblogs that simulate a conversation.
Green engages in everything from discussions of Catcher in the Rye
To Russia's invasion of Georgia
(While applying peanut butter to his face--not to be missed),
Often addressing Hank directly, as if in answer to a dare
(As with the peanut butter entry).
In a more recent videoblog [August 29], as a one-time brief resident of Alaska,
John Green discusses the selection of Sarah Palin
As Republican vice-presidential nominee.
He invites teens to comment and especially
Urges young Republicans to give their opinions.
Green treats his readers as peers, and his readers respect him.
He inspires them to think, to debate, to act.
It's hard to know whether they come to him first
As Nerdfighters or as fans of his books.
And it does not matter.
Paper Towns suggests that as human beings
We are always in search of deeper meaning, greater resonance.
Whether one discovers Q and Margo
Through the book, the audio version, or on,
Green gives them multiple maps to find him
And, in the process, themselves.--Jennifer M. Brown

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