My Review: Paper Towns by John Green

When our perceptions of others say more about ourselves than about them, is it ever really possible to know anyone and to be known by anyone?

In Paper Towns, John Green tackles his favoured topic of human connection in his mesmerizing prose. It’s a story of that first disillusionment, of how imperfection is the foundation for friendship and love, and of how difficult it is to know if you are ever really understanding and ever really understood.

One frustration with this novel is that Green started tackling the serious issue of teenage depression and suicide, but never addressed it completely—especially overlooking it with the ending.

Passages from the novel that I feel best illustrate the central idea:

• The longer I do my job… the more I realize humans lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.

• Isn’t it that on some fundamental level we find it difficult to understand that other people are human beings in the same way that we are? We idealize them as gods or dismiss them as animals.

• In the end it reveals a lot more about the person doing the imagining than it does about the person being imagined.

• This girl who was an idea that I loved… I realize that the idea is not only wrong but dangerous. What a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person.

• I’m not saying that everything is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is.

• Each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And these things happen—these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack open in places. And… once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable… But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it’s only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.