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Brain Crushes, and Book Five: Paper Towns

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Let’s discuss crushes.

I’m pretty sure everyone knows what a normal crush is like. A normal crush is what happens when you know someone and you really like them and want to hold hands with them or make out with them or go on a date with them. They make you feel all warm and fuzzy, and maybe your face turns red when they talk to you, or you momentarily forget how to speak English and when you remember your voice has drastically changed pitch. (Typically, if you’re female, your voice goes up a few notches unless you want to seem really chill and laid back in which case it might go down, and if you’re male it’ll usually go down a few notches unless you’re an actor on Supernatural in which case it’ll go down a whole lot of notches.)

Then there are celebrity crushes. They’re really, really hot, they make the best music or play the best character or have the best hair. They do interviews and talk about french fries (Jennifer Lawrence) and you just know that they’re the most down-to-earth perfect-for-you person and if only you could meet them. Or they do interviews and talk about respecting women (Tom Hiddleston) and they’re the most gentlemanly guys and if only you could meet someone just like that does he have a clone somewhere. Honestly, I don’t really know which celebrities most people have crushes on. I only know which celebrities The Internet has a crush on. I’m pretty sure there are also people who have crushes on d-bags like that guy who beat up Rihanna, and I honestly don’t know what the italicized thought process there is. I don’t. The point is, celebrity crushes are the unattainable and a bit silly and I’m sure there’s a reason we as humans get them, but I don’t know what it is.

I also believe in a type of crush that I call the “friend crush,” which is when you meet someone and you really want to be friends with them. I think this might be an adult thing. Once you’re out of school, it’s harder to meet people to be friends with, and more and more people are moving farther and farther away from their original friends, and so emerges the friend crush. You know people at work, but hanging out with them can be weird and sometimes complicate work dynamics if one of you is the other’s supervisor or boss. Maybe you meet people a few other places, but it’s hard and awkward to go from “in the same class at the gym” or “sells me coffee regularly” to “hanging out.” Hell, it’s hard enough to get from either of those places to “having conversations,” if you’re me. But there’s this big, ballsy “We should hang out sometime” that I find almost as stressful as I imagine “Do you want to get dinner sometime?” would be.

I think that brain crushes are the celebrity crush version of a friend crush. When I have a brain crush on someone, it’s usually someone whom I’m unlikely to ever meet unless I finish my book and get it published and it sells well and I’m invited to join John Green and Neil Gaiman for tea and scones because they’re both really curious about the person whose breakout novel outsold both of their new novels combined. (See what I mean by unattainable?) But, realistically: A brain crush is when there’s someone whom you’re unlikely to ever have coffee with, but you nevertheless really want to have coffee with them, because you really, really want to pick their brain about, well, everything. From “What are some of your favorite books?” to “Do you think it’s possible to achieve a Utopian society without completely sacrificing freedom? Why or why not? Discuss.” to “How delicious would it be if you used chili as pizza sauce?” with the natural follow-up, “Would you put any other toppings on it, or just leave it at chili and cheese?”

I have a brain crush on John Green. And I want to ask everyone reading this: Do you have a brain crush on someone? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I’m telling you all about mine, and I think dishing about crushes is supposed to be a two-way street.

The coolest thing about having a brain crush on John Green is how involved he is with his fans and the internet in general. If you’re not familiar with his and his brother’s YouTube channel, vlogbrothers, you should go check it out. He talks about quite literally everything. (I’m using the British meaning of “quite” here, which means “somewhat” rather than “very.” Somewhat literally. So, you know, almost everything.) There’s a video where he discusses and explains health care costs in the US. There’s also a video where he jumps against a wall to try to find out if he’s an octopus missing four limbs, because obviously an octopus would stick to the wall. He’s active on Twitter and Tumblr and, overall, incredibly connected with his fan base. Which I think is just the coolest, and it makes me brain-crush that much harder.

Of course, I developed my brain crush on John Green through watching his YouTube channel before ever reading any of his books. This is how I first picked up Looking for Alaska expecting it to be light-hearted and fun and intellectually challenging, because that’s how John Green seemed to be, and I erroneously expected his writing to be a bit more like his YouTube videos. And, as I mentioned before, I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. So I read a bit more about him, and learned that he’s just the kind of guy who breaks your heart with his writing, and I picked up An Abundance of Katherines, steeling myself for the eventual heartbreak, and, well, spoiler alert–there wasn’t one. It was fun and light-hearted and intellectual, but not sad.

I really had no idea what to expect when I picked up Paper Towns.

The “Profoundly Moving” on the cover didn’t make me feel very optimistic, though.

Neither did the fact that the book started with two nine-year-olds finding a dead body in a park and discovering that the man had committed suicide.

I think John Green remembers very well what it felt like to be a teenage boy. Of course, I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never been one, but when I read his books I feel like I kind of get it. The narrator of Paper Towns, Quentin (“Q”), presents himself fairly simply. At any point where he directly addresses what type of person he is, he doesn’t paint himself to be this complex, multi-dimensional, beyond anyone else’s understanding type of person. He presents himself as a pretty smart guy who’s looking forward to college and has a crush on this kind of crazy girl at school. And it’s weird, when something’s written in first person, to say there’s a difference between how the main character presents himself and how you end up seeing him, because everything you’re learning about him, he’s telling you. But here, there is. And part of it, I feel, is that he grows a whole lot over the course of the book–who doesn’t? But he also doesn’t give himself enough credit from the beginning, and you can tell. I think it’s so cool that you can tell. At the same time, Quentin’s descriptions of Margo Roth Spiegelman paint her as incredibly complex and impossible to understand. As the book goes on, you realize he’s wrong there, too. They kind of even out. Q isn’t as boring and simple as he seems to see himself as, and Margo isn’t some sort of incomprehensible goddess. They’re both just people.

Of course, that’s one of the major themes of this book. Everyone is a person, no more and no less. And we, since we’re human, have a really hard time understanding that. There are people we idealize, whom we put up on a pedestal and think must be some kind of incredibly complex, intelligent, creative, funny, and overall perfect creature, and by doing that, we kind of fail to acknowledge that they’re people. And then there’s the opposite, the people whom we just assume, maybe not even actively, are somehow less. Less complex, less human. And we’re all people, and we all have a hard time remembering that, I think. And I also think it’s really important to think about that after I just went on and on about my brain crush on the guy who’s making me think about this in the first place. I’m going to go ahead and classify that as irony.

Reading Paper Towns was a bit of a rollercoaster. I started it on Monday morning. I took notes until I got about 50 pages in, then I stopped taking notes because I couldn’t put the book down long enough to write down a thought because I really needed to know what was going to happen. I finished it late Monday night (technically Tuesday morning) and cursed a bit because I had meant to go to sleep nice and early but instead it was 2am and I was trying to remember what thoughts I had while reading so I could write them down so I could eventually write this post.

My brain while reading this book: SHE’S DEAD SHE KILLED HERSELF no they’re going to find her okay THEY’LL NEVER FIND HER AT ALL okay no she’s going to just show up like nothing NO SHE’S DEAD she’s gone forever SHE’S PERFECTLY SAFE no she’s definitely dead I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE.

And the ending still surprised me.

I went in with no expectations, so Paper Towns fulfilled every expectation I possibly could have had going in. I’m going to stop now, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I leave you with this quote from the book:


If you are even remotely interested in young adult literature, I highly recommend reading everything by John Green. Well, everything I’ve read so far. I’m waiting until right before I see the movie to read The Fault in Our Stars, because I have this thing where if there’s a book I need to nitpick, so even if I read it now I would end up re-reading it before I see the movie, and as much as I love re-reading books, I’d rather wait a bit longer between reads. So, look forward to TFiOS in May or June.

And, for book 6…

This isn’t a re-read. I have never read The Giver. I have been meaning to since sixth grade and it just never happened. So when I came across it for three dollars at a used bookstore, well, you know. I’ve already started it and I’m enjoying it thoroughly so far.

How did I become such a post-apocalyptic young adult literature fan without ever having read The Giver?


About Rachael

Hi. I'm Rachael. I realized one day that, even though I read a lot of books, I often have a hard time remembering them later on. I guess that happens when there's so much to try to remember! So I started The 50 Book Project, with the intention to read and blog about 50 new (to me) books in 2014. I read a lot of fantasy, but I'm trying to branch out and experience new stuff. Any questions? Suggestions? Let me know! Comment, or email me at

9 responses »

  1. Hi Rachael,
    I’m sure that I have thousands of brain crushes but the two that I think of first are Dean Kamen (you know FIRST Lego League and Segway guy) and John Fogerty lead singer and guitarist for Credence Clearwater Revival.
    I know you didn’t ask for this part but I vote yes for the Chili Pizza with extra cheese but no other toppings. It sounds delicious!

  2. Pingback: Cheating, and Book 7: 1Q84 vol. 1 | Oh, Rachael.

  3. I went and got Paper Towns after reading this post and I stayed up until 3 reading it last night. I WAS SO CONVINCED SHE WAS DEAD.

  4. Pingback: The Blahs, and Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars | Oh, Rachael.

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