Monday, October 10, 2011

Paper Girls: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns

Lately I've been thinking a great deal about two of my favorite female characters in the YA canon: Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young. These two characters, though driven by different motivations and back-stories, share very similar qualities. What I love about them is that they're real, vulnerable, and they aren't perfect all of the time. I feel like these two girls have a depth and uniqueness that many female characters don't have.

And I empathize with these two girls a great deal. Especially Margo. Granted, I'm not some idolized popular beauty queen in a public high school--but the striking difference between the Margo that the world sees and the Margo that Margo sees is the part that I empathize with.

The fact of the matter is, Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young are not perfect. They are not heroines, or victims, or romantic leads. They are not soft and frilly or "one of the boys". They are portrayed as brilliant and mysterious and hypnotizing and yet, the more we learn about them, the more we see that that's all conjecture--sometimes the girls are those things, but it's impossible for them to maintain.

And so we have a Paper Girl.

So often I feel like the bits of me that I know and the bits that other people see do not add up. If you were to take all of the pieces of me and add them together, I don't think that you would get something greater than that sum. I think you would get a mathematical nightmare. I'm inconsistent and conflicted and like Margo and Alaska, most of the people around me have no idea.

I understand why Margo could feel so empty in her paper town and why Alaska smokes to die. It's impossible to maintain an image for other people to see when it isn't who you are. It's exhausting and frustrating and it leaves you empty--a wrapped up gift with pretty paper and nothing inside (or worse, socks).

But the beautiful thing about Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young is that they have people who love them anyway. Sure, you can make the argument that Pudge only loves the Alaska he sees--but at the end of the book I would argue that he loved the Alaska that he didn't know too. And then you have the wonderful Q, who comes to this awesome realization:

"And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn't being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her. I thought of her asleep on the carpet with only that jagged sliver of sky above her. Maybe Margo felt comfortable there because Margo the person lived like that all the time: in an abandoned room with blocked-out windows, the only light pouring in through holes in the roof. Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made--and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make--was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl." ~John Green

This knowledge sums up so much of how I feel sometimes, and it's one of my favorite quotes in Paper Towns.

My only problem, and the question I would pose to John Green were I to get the chance, is this:

How do you stop being a paper girl?

Because the Alaska and the Margo models don't seem to work long term.

(this post can be found originally on one of my other blogs, however, it was a perfect candidate for this blog as well, so I am posting it here. Original Post)

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