Paper Towns by John Green
I just read the obituary of Anthony Powell in The Economist Book of Obituaries (and oh man is that a great gift for the intellectual gadfly in your life!) and apparently, his advice to book reviewers was “say what it’s about, what you think of it, and perhaps make a joke".
Paper Towns is about Quentin, who has adored his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, from afar since they were nine years old. Q gets to adore her from up close for one long, prank-filled night a month before graduating from high school, and then gets a month to think about the differences, since she disappears completely the very next day.
I think it's a very clever book. John Green, author of An Abundance of Katherines, which I never read but keep thinking I should, sets up a mathematically precise framework for discussions of empathy, presentation, and perception. Without ever using any of those three words, which is - hoo boy - wouldn't that ruin a YA book?!
In the name of deciphering Margo's whereabouts, Q is sent off on solitary missions and vigils, taking him out of his familiar surroundings and giving him time to think. Because Q is carless for much of the book, he must enlist the help of friends, which forces him to consider their needs and personalities. There's even a road trip, the ultimate modern opportunity for contemplation. Every teenager might benefit from such an episode.
Wow, Anthony Powell's advice sucks so far. I wouldn't read this book, given this review, and that's completely wrong, because Paper Towns is one of the rare YA books not involving apocalypse that I might read again just because it's so good. How about if I tell you that Q and his friends are funny nerds - sharp and up to the moment - and the insights come sandwiched between situations involving keg stands, inappropriate deployment of Confederate flag t-shirts, and urine-filled squirt guns?
"I'll ask Angela if she knows anybody," Radar said. "Although getting you a date to prom will be harder than turning lead into gold."There!
"Getting you a date to prom is so hard that the hypothetical idea itself is actually used to cut diamonds," I added.
Radar... came back with another. "Ben, getting you a date to prom is so hard that the American government believes the problem cannot be solved with diplomacy, but will instead require force."