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  • Writer's pictureBrianna Tibbetts

Paper Towns

In 2010, I finally started watching the VlogBrothers on YouTube. I didn't really know anything about John and Hank Green at the time, aside from what I'd learned by watching other YouTubers like Charlie McDonnell. I started at the beginning and watched through every video until I was caught up, and have since watched every video uploaded to the channel. At some point during this process, I decided to read John Green's novels. I hadn't heard of him outside of YouTube, so I didn't really know what to expect.

On a very surface level, I like John's writing style. It's very personable and easy to sink into and get comfortable with. I like how his books assume a depth of thought in teenagers most people don't credit that age with. I really appreciate how his books address important concepts in a way that can reach everyone.

Going a little deeper, I have some issues with John's books. I feel differently about each of his four primary novels, but for the most part they all have some of the same problems. The two I have the biggest issue with are the pervasive profanity and sexual innuendos. On one hand, I can get out of his books the core message and really appreciate the story he's trying to tell. I understand that high school age kids say a lot of things that I never would. I've been around people like that, and I know it's pretty accurate to have teenagers swearing and cracking sexual jokes. On the other hand though, the underlying assumption is that teenagers are going to swear, make innuendos, and even have sex. The idea that these things are what they are and are going to happen no matter what troubles me.

I've carried different lessons and memorable sections out of all of John's books. I think there's a lot that can be learned from them. Looking For Alaska deals with some really heavy things, but there's some pretty substantial lessons that can be gleaned from it if you sift through all the profanity and sexuality that pepper the text. An Abundance Of Katherines suffers slightly less from the profanity issue, but only because the main characters have a substitute for the f-word that they use to excess.

That brings me to Paper Towns, which of course is now the subject of a recently released film. I went to the Night On The Towns pre-release and simulcast, where I was given a locket and a poster. I enjoyed myself. The casting was great, there were some hilarious parts, and the message that made me love Paper Towns was clearly declared in the film. From a reader's point of view, my only real issue was that the lesson of Paper Towns was an end-of-the-film conclusion, rather than a journey of realization as it is in the book. My favourite quote from the book, which did make it into the film, is "What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person." It's one of my favourite things from any of John Green's books, and I wish that the lesson had been a little more central to the film. Other than that, my biggest problem with the film adaption was the continued use of profanity and innuendo in the characters' dialogue. While I don't believe it inaccurate to the age group, it's still troubling.

I would be remiss to speak about John Green without mentioning The Fault In Our Stars, or TFioS as it is frequently shortened to. I genuinely loved TFioS. I disagree with a lot of the worldview conclusions of the book (and film), but I love how the entire structure of the story is based around the need to make the reader consider those topics. As someone who very rarely cries and strongly dislikes romantic literature, I thoroughly enjoyed TFioS, even when it made me cry. There's some language and innuendo in TFioS, but not nearly to the degree of John's other books. My impression is that this is largely because of the emphasis on the subject matter and the lack of typical high school shenanigans. Because of that TFioS stands out as John's best book for me, even though I like the story of Paper Towns just as much, if not a little more.

I love the VlogBrothers, and I do really enjoy John as an author. I think the films based off his books are done well and with love to the stories. However, I cannot go out and recommend them to my friends without a few caveats. I hope that one day the tide of young adult literature can turn back to a place where we don't assume that teenagers must swear, must constantly be thinking in innuendos, and must have sex. None of those assumptions accurately encompass teenagers, and I feel like young adult literature in particular has forgotten that.

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