As I was reading this book, something about it just didn’t feel right.
I guess that high school was long enough ago for me that I think back on it with the rose coloured glasses of nostalgia, so from time to time, I kind of like a coming of age story. But what drew me to this book was that so many people have recommended that I read, The Fault In Our Stars, which is by the same author, which I kind of can’t be bothered to read, because it sounds really sentimental. (Let me know if it’s not).
And then I read about how this one is about a guy who is crazy in love with the girl next door, and then she goes missing. Which is a pretty cool premise for a book. So I bought it. I thought about seeing the movie instead, but like… Cara Delevingne kind of comes across as a bit of a loser, and her performance is meant to be highly comedic (her press interviews in the US to promote the film certainly are), so I thought it might lose some of the impact.
So, John Green is actually pretty good. The book flows really well, and I found myself doing that “ok, one more chapter and then I really am going to get on with that thing I should have already done”, which is pretty much the best praise you can give a book.
It’s also not exactly what I thought: the girl climbs into the guys window one night (don’t you love how teens are always coming in and out of each others windows in American stories? I love that) and she has this mysterious plan she needs his help with. It’s a really clever revenge plot against her boyfriend, who she found out was cheating on her with her best friend, and it’s a pretty funny sequence of events. The next day, she’s gone. And the guy tries to follow the clues to see if he can find her.
So, ok, go out and buy this book, because it’s really good. John Green makes all his characters really funny, and then you kind of get really sad in places too, because you care about them, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. You won’t be disappointed, it’s a good book.
The thing that bugged me though… so the girl next door and the guy (that’s Margo and Quentin) have been friends since they were kids, because they live next door to each other, but Margo is stunning and adventurous, so she has become the most popular girl and has kind of almost forgotten that Quentin exists, and he’s crazy in love with her. What’s great about the story, is that you start out rooting for the awkward nice guy to get the most beautiful girl in school, but you start to realise that the book is really about how little we know each other, and how flimsy our concepts of each other are. Quentin has been watching Margo across a crowded high school hallway, but it turns out that when she goes missing, no one really knew her.
What doesn’t work about this is that Margo is kind of a bitch. We meet her during their revenge spree, and she’s kind of awful to him, and thinks very little of him. And he’s kind of obsessed with the image of her that he has. You feel like that should change as he learns that he never really knew her, but it doesn’t really. He’s trying to solve this mystery that she’s left behind, trying to prove himself worthy of her, but as he’s learning that she was kind of a performance that everyone projected an ideal onto… that should change, and it doesn’t. I mean, the book is kind of about that very thing, of how we idealise things and people, and about the real person within. He never really gets the chance to know her, he’s in love with his ideal of her, and the answer… is that he keeps on being crazy about that person, who isn’t real. And the real person, the real Margo, is kind of mean and selfish. Most of the mystery of her is in his head.
I don’t think that that really detracts from the book or the story as a whole, I thought it was a great book: loved how there’s this dance between Quentin’s obsession with finding her and his spinning away from normal life, as though time has stopped for him, but it’s still going on around him. I loved the way that he’s figuring out clues and searching for Margo, but in the process, figuring out this idea that we can never truly know another person. Those aspects really worked.