I don’t think any of this constitutes Paper Towns spoilers, but still, those looking to avoid spoilers might not want to read it.
In comments, anonymous writes: “John, I loved Paper Towns, but alas, Margo is a typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” (The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined by the brilliant Nathan Rabin of the Onion, with whom I am slightly acquainted.)
In response, let me begin by noting that the author of a novel is not synonymous with its narrator. First-person narration in a novel is inherently unreliable; the moment we notice the narrator’s name is different from the author’s name, we know that 1. the narrator is a creation of the author, and therefore that 2. the author knows more about the story than the narrator does.
So it is a mistake to presume that the narrator’s perspective always reflects what a novel believes is capital-t True. One of the challenges of any first-person narrative is finding ways to point out the narrator’s observational insufficiencies without abandoning his/her perspective.
Margo is certainly presented by Q as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl at the beginning of PT. Absolutely. But that only acknowledges that some boys believe in Manic Pixie Dream Girls; it doesn’t argue that MPDGs actually exist, or that Margo is one. (The distinction is, I would argue, hugely important. It’s the difference between saying, “Some people believe Sarah Palin would be a good President,” and saying, “Sarah Palin would be a good President.”) Paper Towns is a book about–at least in part–the MPDG lie, and the danger of the lie–the way it hurts both the observer and the observed. In order to uncover Margo’s fate, Q must imagine Margo as a person, and abandon his long-held MPDG fantasies.
(I should add, by the way, that the Manic Pixie Dream Human is not a girl-specific problem; I can offer up any number of romanticized too-beautiful-for-this-world male romantic leads in contemporary novels, even very good ones.)
So anyway, if someone finishes Paper Towns believing in the MPDG, or if the novel in the end seems to further the bullshit myth of the MPDG, then PT is a failure, at least on that front. (The novel is fighting other battles, too, of course, but a lot of the imagery–the leaves and the whale and the mirrors and the hair always in everyone’s face–does seek to hammer home this point that we must have faith that other people are, in fact, people.)
I actually think the MPDG criticism is more fairly leveled against a novel like, say, Looking for Alaska–in which the narrator, by nature of his circumstances, is never able to see the other as fully human. Some people say the books are similar; I think they are basically opposites, both plotwise and thematically. (What they have in common–smart teenagers who talk fast and do stupid shit–is, frankly, shared by every novel about adolescence I like, from Huck Finn to The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks.)
Of course, I might be wrong about any/all of this. Discussion to continue in comments!