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The Feeling of Suspense in John Green's Novel 'Paper Towns'

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Suspense is a feeling that engulfs people in its sea. It will grasp readers by their throat and leave them desperate. John Green not only leaves the reader in suspense throughout the story but also the characters in the story. The mystery follows Quentin as he proceeds through a very liminal time in his life. Three weeks shy of graduating high school, Quentin experiences a life-changing night after his former best friend Margo shows up at his window and provokes him into joining her on an adventure of revenge. When he gets to school the next morning, he learns those dreams are dashed, as Margo is missing and no one knows where she is. Symbolism, the tone of the author and setting description is used throughout the novel. It heightens the intensity of the story and creates suspense for the reader.

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From the beginning of the book, strings play a massive role in the story. The text shows strings breaking to demonstrate someone becoming detached but through the course of the novel this change. By the end of the text, strings symbolize freedom. The first occurrence of the word is spoken by Margo regarding the death of Robert Joyner. After investigating further into the case she had come to the conclusion that “‘all the strings inside him broke’” (Green 8). It implies our lives are made up of a series of strings. She suggests that he became detached from everything in his life and couldn’t survive. Nine years later, Margo uses this same phrase to describe her broken relationships with her former best friends Quentin, Jase, Becca, and Lacey. After Margo had gone missing an investigation was held and Detective Warren had put strings into a different perspective, comparing kids with balloons, “‘They strain against the string and strain against it, and then something happens and the string gets cut, and they float away’” (Green 104). Broken strings might also mean freedom. After Margo disappears, Detective Warren spins an elaborate metaphor about balloons with broken strings sailing off and landing in different places. Sometimes, he says, they come back but sometimes they stay where they have gone. Since Margo has been trying to escape the Jefferson Park subdivision, people conceive that Margo broke her string. The question of Margo coming back leaves the reader in question the whole novel.

John Green uses many different tones throughout the story to create a mood in the reader. One of the most prominent tones he has used in the text is suspense. Through the course of the story, Quintin experiences mixed feelings about the statement about “what she said about the dead guy and the strings— and about herself and the strings” (Green 70). Margo mentions how everyone has strings and when the last one breaks you die Quentin is worried that the strings in Margo broke too. John Green uses the strings to create suspense in the characters of the book and the reader. Near the climax of the story, Quintin and his friends were searching for Margo. A few clues that Margo had left behind had led them to an abandoned mini-mall. There at the mini-mall “a rusted pole stood about eight feet high by the side of the road. But the sign was long gone, snapped off by a hurricane or an accumulation of decay. The stores themselves had fared little better: It was a single-story building with a flat roof and bare cinder block was visible in places. Strips of cracked paint wrinkled away from the walls, like insects clinging to a nest” (Green 139). This description of the mini-mall creates fear and anxiety. The building that the author was talking about seems mysterious in a slightly gross, or uncomfortable way, which makes the reader uncomfortably anxious to find out what happens next.

Furthermore, vivid words are used throughout the novel to create an image in the mind of the reader. This helps the reader to feel as if they are in the story with the characters, feeling what they are feeling, seeing what they are seeing. At the beginning of the book, Margo and Quentin had gone to the park-like they did every day. Everything was normal until they saw a man. As they walked closer to the man they saw that “he was encircled by blood; a half-dried fountain of it poured out of his mouth” (Green 5). The description creates a vivid setting in the reader’s mind. The fountain of blood shows the significance of how much blood the man had lost. The reader could only imagine how long it took for the fountain of blood to half-dry. When John Green illustrates the blood encircling the man it is showing a barrier created between the man and Margo and Quentin. Vivid wording was seen again near the middle of the book when a mini-mall was illustrated. The windows of the mini-mall “were boarded up with warped sheets of particleboard” (Green 139). On the wall “water stains formed brown abstract painting” (Green 139). The description of the setting gives a backstory. When vivid words such as “boarded up”, “warped” and “brown abstract painting” it can be inferred that this mini-mall had gone out of business or was no longer in use. Vivid words can be used to describe a setting raises the intensity of the story as well as creates feelings of anxiety in the reader.

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From the beginning of the book, Margo repeatedly references the idea of metaphorical ‘strings’ that hold a person together. At first, strings were viewed as death, or someone detaching themselves from something, but by the end, the characters in the story looked at the strings in a different way. Instead of death, they viewed it as freedom. Like the string of a balloon getting cut, the balloon is set free. These strings represent freedom and escape to a better life. 

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