I recently read Paper Towns by John Green, who happens to be one of my favorite Young Adult authors. Once again John Green made me laugh and then immediately followed it up by provoking me to think deeply about life. Two main themes resonated with me: people are more complex than the masks they wear, and life cannot be lived solely for the future.
Margo Roth Spiegelman is surrounded by more legends than Zorro and more myths that Merlin. She has purposefully built a reputation of mystery and excitement for herself, so no one is all that shocked when she goes missing merely weeks from graduation. No one except Quentin Jacobson, her childhood friend. Jacob sees the wild, mysterious persona she portrays to the rest of the town, but he knows another side of her too, a part of her left over from childhood.
During his search to find Margo, Jacob is forced to attempt unraveling Margo and all her hidden layers, but the more he discovers the more he realizes that there is more to Margo than anyone realized. Each person perceived Margo differently based off of how he/she wanted to perceive her.
We tend to see in people only what we want to see. In love interests, we overlook negative traits and inflate positive ones. In enemies, we ignore the pleasant parts of their personalities and dwell on the repulsive ones. In friends, we focus on similarities and pretend differences don’t exist. It is incredibly difficult for us to look past our own expectations of people to see who they truly are.
Maybe that’s what Paul the Apostle was talking about in 1 Corinthians:
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
On earth we cannot perceive people for who they truly are because it’s like we’re looking through a dirty window at them. But once we enter into eternity, we will be able to see people for who they truly are, all masks aside, and they will see us the same. How wonderful will that be! To not have to worry about people not understanding you? That definitely sounds like heaven to me.
The other theme in Paper Towns that struck a cord is that of living life for now instead of always living for the future. Margo postulates that almost all people live out their lives so that they can do something else later. For instance: People go to school to make good grades to go to college to get a job to get a car and house to have kids who will go to school to make good grades to go to college to get a job to get a car and house, ad infinitum.
This isn’t enough for Margo, though. She wants to live life now, not sometime in the future. At one point when Jacob asks whether she is concerned for the future, Margo responds with a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, “Forever – is composed of Nows” (for the whole poem, click here).
Many times in life we do get caught up in the endless cycle of preparing for the future. “I can’t do _______ because I have to prepare for _____.” We allow ourselves to become slaves to the future, bound too tightly to even breathe comfortably in the present. The future consumes us to the point where there is nothing left to merely exist in the moment. Yet the future is not a destination; we are never going to wake up one day, check the calendar, and discover the date reads “The Future.” No, all we have is a series of nows, one now instantly replaced by another now and another and another. To enjoy forever we have to enjoy now.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Paper Towns, although I personally would have preferred less profanity and vulgarity. The book is an accurate reflection of American youth, though, which I believe is what John Green was aiming at. Good job, John, good job.