Dutton Books, 2008
Quentin has harbored a certain longing all his life for Margo Roth Speigelman, childhood friend and girl next door in the literal and only literal sense. Margo is a legend. She's the girl at the center of every true epic tale Quentin couldn't even make up if he tried. When Margo disappears, Quentin devotes himself to solving not only the mystery of what happened to her but the whole mystery that is Margo Roth Speigelman from afar.
A story about trying to understand a character who disappears for the majority of said story works about as well as it sounds like it would. Margo starts out as a Ferris Bueller-like larger-than-life figure, a self-centered bully of a friend who can only be tolerated for her ability to open doors to experiences that are closed to better behaved people. Quentin’s efforts lead him mainly to the conclusion that it’s impossible to completely understand another person, which is interesting in its way, but for those of us well-behaved people who were hoping for a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Margo type, in spite of Margo being given the chance to explain herself, we don’t get much. A great deal of time is also spent meditating on poetry explication and metaphors that become forced at points, and which characters agree upon inexplicably without the need for discussion.
While Margo is perhaps even more mysterious than she’s meant to be, Quentin himself is transparent, relatable and lovable. He’s the timid, well-behaved kid who wants to be a hero, and who ultimately ends up embracing and cultivating his easily overlooked heroic qualities of compassion, curiosity, and determination. It’s a subtle but very satisfying progression. The metaphors do work well most of the time, and there’s a great bit of discussion at the end about why which metaphors we choose from the multitude of options to contemplate is important. And for those of us who enjoy the fantasy of improbably intellectual interaction between supposedly average characters (probably all of us who will voluntarily read more than one John Green book in a lifetime), Metaphysical I Spy for the win!
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