Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Paper Towns by John Green

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Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: October 16, 2008
Publisher: Speak
Format: Paperback
Pages: 305
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 8 to 10, 2013
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
Summary: Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.


“Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town.”

I love Paper Towns so much that I have been at a loss for words for one whole week. I thought I love Alaska, but I love this even more. This book is perfect to me.

(Right now, it's hard to form coherent responses to this book, since it's been a week and my feelings are not as intense as they were right after I finished it, so please bear with me.)

There are a lot of things I loved about this book. I loved the story, the characters, the intertextuality (Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"), the mystery, and most of all, damn, I loved the ending. I loved it so much. I remember being hurt all over while reading this book. Like Looking for Alaska, reading it gave me some kind of warmth, soothing and intense at the same time. It was sad, but it was also more than that. I spent a few minutes trying to write down what I think this story is a mixture of, but it all came out wrong. It's one of those books you really can't summarize. The whole thing is just too sublime to be wholly reduced or contained in just a few petty sentences.

Besides the story, the characters in this book are just wonderful. I understood Q as well as I could easily place myself in Margo's shoes. The thing about loving someone from afar is that it comes with this distance, which is big and wide enough for you to imagine and fill in the blank whatever you want about them, and sometimes you can't separate reality from imagination, because, for you, they are embodied in this one figure, and you end up believing this conjured-up thing/person to be real and inseparable. It's easy to think you love someone unattainable, but the truth is it can be more about you than about them--because the thought of attaining the unattainable gives you pride or makes you feel good about yourself or whatever. Looking from a distance, you don't see the cracks or flaws; but what if you don't like what you see when you're up close? Will you feel betrayed or deceived? Will they still be what you think you want? Will Q still love the real and exposed Margo?

I could relate so much with Margo, and that made me love the book even more. This girl, who carries herself with poise on the outside and marvelously kicks ass on a daily basis, is filled to the brim with all the pent up unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life. And I just totally get it. In this manner, Margo is pretty much like Alaska in Looking for Alaska, whom I also love. To me, it's crystal clear why she needs to go away so desperately, why she just can't hold on for one more second. I respect her because she doesn't waste time talking about what she's going to do, she just goes ahead and does it. Her determination and having the courage to go through with her plans are something I look up to. What I also love about her is that despite her determination, she doesn't push it, but instead gives herself time for second thoughts, a chance to change her mind.

I think John Green played with these ideas very well in Paper Towns, with a lot of depth and sophistication. I also loved that he took the other turn for the ending, the less cliched one, which is all the more rewarding and painful for readers (or at least for me). I remember having a crying jag near the end of the book; I felt everything and it was overwhelming. It was just so beautiful, what with things so messed-up and wrong and expectations ruined—and yet, amid all that destruction, there's so much beauty in it that is so, so real and so raw. I don't know if I'm making sense, but I can tell you the ending of Paper Towns is one of the best book endings in all history of my readership. This book is very clever, too, and touching, and definitely the best thing I've read since the beginning of 2013. A five-star kind of magnificence. A new favorite I plan to reread a lot in the future.

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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: January 1, 2005
Publisher: Speak
Format: Paperback
Pages: 231
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 5 to 6, 2013
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
SummaryBefore. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking how you'll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

Thus began my John Green book marathon (I finished this and Katherines, am reading Paper Towns next). I'd been meaning to read Looking for Alaska for so long, but 1) I couldn't really find the time to and 2) no, actually, I was afraid of ending up not liking it (kind of like the quote I put above; I kept thinking I would read it one day and it would be awesome but I never did it because I was afraid of being proven wrong—brilliant quote, by the way, John Green). Well, now that I couldn't resist it anymore and finally read it, I feel so stupid for having putting it off all this time. We're only about 2 months and 2 weeks into 2013, and this is the best read by far. Dang! I really should've read this much sooner! I hope 8 years after the publication date isn't too long. Still, better late than never, right?

It's one of those times again when a book affects me so much that I don't know how to begin talking about it properly. Here goes nothing.

Looking for Alaska is divided into "before" and "after," and by looking at it I kind of knew what was to come. This is not a subtle foreshadow, but rather blatant, and I was really happy and looking forward to the heart-wrenching parts because God knows I live for tearjerkers. In the "before" part, Miles "Pudge" Halter leaves home to attend a boarding school in order to leave behind the same old things and seek "the Great Perhaps." Not having any friends before, Miles surprisingly makes a few friends who totally kick ass: "the Colonel", Alaska, and Takumi. Miles gets pulled into their pranks and become a part of this circle of great friendship. More than anyone, Miles is drawn to Alaska—the reckless, unstable, unstoppable, impulsive, loud, fun, beautiful, rude, unhappy, bookish Alaska Young, the girl who "embodies the Great Perhaps" and changes everything in his world in the "after" part.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, the writing, everything. I loved how this is a coming-of-age story with heartfelt heartbreak and love and loss and sadness and misery and friendship and nostalgia and mistakes and regrets and longing for a better future. This book has everything that I love to read about, and it blends all these things together perfectly. About halfway through the book, I couldn't feel its amazingness yet, and I thought it was just okay. But once it goes into the second half of the book I just couldn't stop the tears from coming. I felt so much, and yet too little; I couldn't get enough of the sadness the book drowned me in. I felt alive.

Like I said in my Katherines review, John Green's characters are brilliantly crafted. I loved them. Even though I don't have much in common with Pudge, I respect him greatly. Not a lot of people realize that they've had enough and that they need to change, or have the courage to leave things behind in hope for a better unknown. I feel like a total loser in comparison to him; I always complain about how I hate it and how I'm so full of it, and I dream about leaving all of it behind but I never really do anything about it (again, like the quote above). And Alaska, she's so full of hope and misery that she reminds me of myself (this is not to say I'm as cool as her, but I think we're both similarly "deeply unhappy" with our lives). I'm known for my unpredicatable ups and downs, and with a little trigger, I can freak out for the longest time about things I have no power to change. I feel like I get her, and she gets me. The way she sees life and the world is heartbreaking. Even with all her flaws, Alaska is a perfect character the way she is, and I love her with all my "crooked heart."

I don't think any more needs to be said other than that Looking for Alaska is just what I've been looking for to get me out of my epic reading slump. In the time when hardly any books move me, Alaska managed to get a hold of my heart and wrench it, wrench it so hard it hurt all over, and made me once again susceptible to feelings besides boredom. I submerged myself in the overwhelming floods of emotions, in which there was some sort of illumination about life and suffering. John Green's writing enveloped me with warmth on top of all that. Although my first reaction when I finished the book was to give it 4.5 stars, I changed my mind as I slept on it these past two days. This book is glorious and deserving of every praise.

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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

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Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: September 1, 2006
Publisher: Dutton
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 229
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 6 to 8, 2013
My rating: 3 stars: I like it (3.5)
Summary: Katherine V thought boys were gross. Katherine X just wanted to be friends. Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail. K-19 broke his heart. When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable?

This is my second John Green book (the first is Looking for Alaska, for which I will write a review after this one), and honestly I didn't like it as much as I did Alaska. They are totally different, and I think I prefer the Alaska kind of mood to this comic one. But this is not to say that Katherines isn't a good book; it is a good book, but just not one that will compel me to gush about it forever.

In John Green's second novel, Colin Singleton, a "washed-up child prodigy," just gets his heart broken by K-19, which is the starting point of this whole novel. All his life, Colin's love interests have been all named "Katherine" (the exact spellings, no variations)—he explains this somewhere in the story that once he got together with the second Katherine, he felt like he wanted to keep the streak (forgive me if my memory is wrong; after all, "you don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened," to quote John Green).  The best friend, Hassen, a "fatty" and "not a terrorist" (hahaha he always says funny things), thinks it will do him good if they go on a road trip together, because, well, road trips are awesome, right? On the way, Colin sees this poster that says Archduke Franz Ferdinand's corpse, which started WWI, is buried in Gutshot, Tennessee. And because Colin is Colin, who has interests in everything (actually, the book says he doesn't "know from boring"), they go see it. And Gutshot, Tennessee just might start a new chapter in his life, one that doesn't involve any more Katherines, but one that will see Colin comes to terms with his high expectations of himself and others.

I think John Green did a really great job in crafting compelling characters. Like in Alaska, the characters in this book feel so real, so alive, so likeable and relatable in ways big and small. Colin is a unique human being who is miserable most of the time because of the pressure he puts on himself. I understand where he's coming from; always wanting to be better than what you already are, because "good" isn't enough to be remarkable. It's scary, don't you think, to think that you've got something to offer, but that talent is "lodged" with you "useless" (to quote John Milton), because so far you haven't offered anything yet, and you don't know if you'll ever be able to do something about it. It's scary! And it eats at you, this pressure you put on yourself. To think that it is bad for me, I know that it must be worse for Colin, because at least he has a ground on which he can always assess his "matterness." A child prodigy, now teenager Colin expects himself to be even more than that, but not all child prodigies grow up to be or geniuses or necessarily remarkable. This Colin quote: "I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters. I just want to matter" speaks to me quite personally, and I'm sure it speaks to a lot of other people as well, as it wraps up this feeling of wanting to be more so well.

But to say that Colin is my favorite would be totally wrong, even if I do like him. Hassen, I have to admit, is the most colorful character in the book. If you know me personally, you might know that I don't cope very well with boredom. Boredom is lethal to me, it chokes and suffocates me (which is the main reasons why I abandon a lot of books), and most of the time I don't stick with books long enough to discover the not-boring parts. But Hassan, he colors everything. Any scenes with him never failed to crack me up, and I totally mean it. Books don't usually make me laugh out loud; chuckle, maybe, or snort, but not laugh out loud, and that's exactly what Hassan made me do. My mom asked me if I was alright, because I laughed long and hard and intermittently. Hassan is the best. And I would totally love to have a friend like him in real life. He just makes everything better.

I will say this again in my review for Alaska because this thought originally occurred to me while I was reading it, but I'll also say it now to make my point: John Green's writing skill is clearly excellent. So excellent that sometimes some passages would strike me, like as soon as I read them I know it's what I've been feeling but didn't know how to put into words. Still, all the time I was reading Katherines, I could feel the absence of something, only I didn't know what it was until the book ended: this book, for me, is not so much plot as characters, and I don't know if that's good or bad. I would love more plot, though, to hold it together better. And I didn't like the ending. So abrupt, and a little contrived, if I may. But overall an enjoyable read. And who'd have known that math could be associated or interwoven with something so hilarious and fun?

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This review is also posted on Goodreads.
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