This will be the last one. Probably.
When I started reading John Green books in high school, my favorite was An Abundance of Katherines. I liked Looking for Alaska too, because it was beautiful and poetic and addressed some things I struggled with at that time in my life. The Fault in Our Stars still has tear stains from the first time I read it. But I rushed through Paper Towns and shrugged it off.
But of the four, Paper Towns is the one I’ve reread twice in the last year and the one I’m currently obsessed with.
Neil Gaiman once said books find us when we’re ready for them. This is one of my deepest held beliefs. If you pulled a random book from my shelf, I can probably tell you what was happening in my life that led me to choose that story. I can also tell you how reading it affected me, both in the moment and in shaping who I am today. They would have had different effects – or none at all – if I hadn’t been ready for them.
But every once in a while, you catch a book just a little too early. Maybe you flip through it in a bookstore and put it back, or someone gives it to you and it ends up in a pile with all the others. Maybe you even pick it up and read through a few pages or chapters before tossing it back.
That’s all right, these books say. I’ll wait right here. Come back when you’re ready. And this was what Paper Towns did for me. Even though I read it to the end, I didn’t read it completely, and it waited until I was ready to. It even seemed to give me a sign that the time was coming.
I reread it right before the movie was released and I related so much then to Q, getting lost in Margo and her mystery to shut out his fear of the future. And I reread it this week, feeling a weight in my chest every time Margo says that the strings inside her broke. Because now I understand what she means.
It occurs to me that everyone doesn’t have this relationship with books. Not everyone can point to one and say, “This one literally saved my life when I was fourteen and sixteen, and twenty and twenty-three.” Not everyone can point to one and say, “I had no idea who I was before I read this, but it was like looking in a mirror and I understand myself a little better now.” Maybe other people don’t need that, but I do.
Paper Towns didn’t do either of those things the first time I read it. It didn’t even do those things the second time, even though I did enjoy it a lot more. But this week, when the strings were pulled so tight that I was sure they’d snap, when I wanted nothing more in the world than to pull a Margo (screw the months of planning, just get in the car, get your revenge, and get out of town), this is what that book has been waiting for. Margo escapes and Q tells her no one is irreparably broken, and that gave me hope when I needed it. She gets to be her true self and Q realizes that the light only gets in through his broken places.
Margo is still broken, but with these things, she learns how to go on with her brokenness. Accepting the brokenness is what allows her to stop being made of paper.