Daily Archives: December 26, 2009

Two for the Road: The Miles Between and Paper Towns

I like road trips. A lot. I like planning them. I like charting our progress (obsessively) on the almost-torn map from the glove compartment. I like the long stretches of no conversation, the McD’s french fry stops, the bag o’ CDs that I bring along because I am always the DJ. I even like the way my body eventually cramps up from hours of slouching in the passenger seat until I am certain I will never be straight again, and the exhausted, painful stretch of getting out of the car at the end of it all. I like how almost all road trips seem destined to become stories.

Perhaps these are reasons why road trip books make me happy.

Maybe because I knew I would have some minor road tripping to do over the holidays, I read two road trip stories this past week that have been on my TBR list for way too long. You should read them too, if you haven’t already (but read my reviews first).

The Miles Between has a lot to satisfy Mary Pearson’s fans. In many ways, it’s a very different book from The Adoration of Jenna Fox, most obviously because it’s realistic, not sci-fi, and isn’t an edge-of-your-seat type of read the way Jenna Fox was for me. However, there are aspects of The Miles Between that reminded me of Jenna Fox. Both books feature strong – but damaged – central characters, and both books make you think about the ways people know each other and connect to each other, and in both stories, Mary Pearson proves she has a real talent for revealing just a little bit at a time about a character, making you intensely curious to learn more.

Destiny Faraday lives by one rule: Don’t get attached. She has reasons for keeping everyone at a distance, and she prides herself on being an excellent observer of those around her, watching rather than making connections with others. She feels like she knows everything about her classmates at Hedgebrook Academy. She thinks she has everyone all figured out. Then on October 19th, a day that holds particular and mysterious significance for Destiny, she ends up on a road trip with three of her classmates. It’s a journey where chance and fate are difficult to separate, and with a destination that takes all of the passengers by surprise.

I liked that this road trip started off because of an encounter that Destiny has with a mysterious stranger. It added a possible element of fantasy to the story that intrigued me, a sense of whimsy that threaded through the rest of the narrative. I was immediately curious about Destiny. I wanted to find out more about her past, the reasons for her self-isolation, and her desire for one completely fair day. This story will make you think about how people form relationships, the role of chance in life, how life is just not fair a lot of the time, and how so many of the things that matter are not in our power to change. While this story is dark in places, and sad too, it is also funny and quirky and light.

I have to be in the right mood for John Green. He’s just so darn clever that sometimes, I can’t take it. (Is it possible to be too clever? Sometimes I think John Green is too clever). So I was putting off Paper Towns for the right mood, and moment. I needed to be in a place where I had a high tolerance for clever. I’m sure glad that I didn’t put this book off for good, because it is good. Really, really good. This book made me realize that yes, John Green is super clever, but it also made me aware that John Green is a seriously talented, for real writer. An artist, you might say. Paper Towns is a story that will make you think about the power of leaving a place you’ve known for a long time. It will make you want to go on a road trip with your best friends. It will make you wonder if you really do know your friends as well as you think you do. It will make you really, really want John Green to hurry up and finish writing the screenplay because you know what a great film this story will become.

Paper Towns catches Quentin Jacobsen just before he graduates from High School, poised for big changes, and still super-in-love with his wildly adventurous next door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. After one crazy night when he and Margo wreak a little havoc all over town, Quentin feels like things will finally happen between him and Margo. The very next day, Margo disappears. Everyone else thinks that Margo is just off on another one of her adventures, being Margo. Quentin cannot get over her and he won’t accept that she’s moved on. He has to find her and so he starts looking for clues. When he finds them, he begins a confusing and complicated journey towards the girl he thought he knew.

This story is about understanding people, really about understanding that we cannot know someone, even when we are very sure that we do. It’s about how in love, we idealize others and then if we’re lucky, when we realize that we’ve done exactly that, we still love the person, maybe even more than before. Quentin is a fabulous, ordinary hero, and Margo is like the coolest girl you’ve ever known or imagined. You’ll picture their lives going on after this book ends. In my mind, Paper Towns has so much of what makes me love to read. It made me think about human connectedness, and sadness, and how friendship usually save us in the end. I laughed. There are scenes from Quentin’s road trip with his friends that will stay in my reader brain for a really long time. For me, Paper Towns may just be the road trip story to beat.

Both The Miles Between and Paper Towns will surprise you, entertain you, and ultimately satisfy you – like the best road trips you’ve known.

The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson is published by Henry Holt. Paper Towns by John Green is published by Dutton.