Paper Towns

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For the upcoming film adaptation, see Paper Towns (film)
Paper Towns
Paper Towns covers.jpg
The two[1] first edition covers
Author John Green
Country United States
Language English
Genre Mystery
Publisher Dutton Books
Publication date
October 16 2008
Media type Print (Hardback, Paperback)
Pages 305
ISBN 978-0-525-47818-8
OCLC 202483793
LC Class PZ7.G8233 Pap 2008

Paper Towns is the third young adult novel written by John Green. It was published on October 16, 2008 by Dutton Books.[2] It debuted at number 5 on the New York Times bestseller list for children's books[3] and was awarded the 2009 Edgar Award for best young-adult novel.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

Paper Towns takes place in and around a fictional subdivision called Jefferson Park, located in Orlando, Florida. The novel focuses on the narrator and protagonist, Quentin "Q" Jacobsen, and his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. As young children, Quentin and Margo one day discover the corpse of Robert Joyner, a divorced man who has committed suicide, in the park. Following this incident, the novel flashes forward to present-day Quentin and Margo, who are now high school students that have grown apart from each other. However, a month before their high school graduation, Margo shows up at Quentin’s bedroom window with black face paint and black clothes in the middle of the night. She has devised a revenge mission on a group of people who she feels have hurt her over the course of her high school career. The mission has eleven parts to it. Margo needs someone and more importantly, a car, to help her complete her mission. So, she convinces Quentin to sneak out and help her seek revenge.

To begin their mission, Margo and Quentin head to a local Walmart to purchase a list of items that they will need to complete their plan. After they have purchased all of the necessary materials, Margo and Quentin visit her ex-boyfriend, Jase, and her best friend, Becca to begin part one of their mission. Jase had cheated on Margo with Becca. To get back at Jase and Becca, Margo has Quentin call Becca's parents to inform them that their daughter is currently having sex with Jase in their basement. As a naked Jase attempts to escape the house and the wrath of Becca's dad, Quentin takes a picture of him. Margo and Quentin then break into Becca's home, graffiti a blue ‘M’ for Margo on her wall, and leave a dead catfish in her basement to symbolize her betrayal. After the incident with Becca and Jase, they visit Karin, a minor character in the novel, and leave her a bouquet of flowers. Karin is the character who informed Margo that Jase was cheating on her. Upon the revelation of this news, Margo cursed her out in disbelief. Following the completion of the second part of their mission, Quentin and Margo go to Jase’s house, break in, graffiti a turquoise "M," and leave him a fish. They then visit Lacey, one of Margo's best friends and a major character towards the latter half of the text. Margo has always felt that Lacey had never been a good friend to her because she had often ridiculed her and made backhand comments about her physical appearance. Margo and Quentin break into Lacey's parked car. They purposely leave the fish under her car seat and graffiti a blue ‘M’ on the roof of her car. At 3:15 in the morning, they sneak into the SunTrust bank building and enter a conference room on one of the higher floors to see a panorama of Orlando. Here, Margo, for the first time, refers to Orlando and their subdivision as a "paper town." She describes it as “fake” and “not even hard enough to be made of plastic.” Once they leave the SunTrust building, Margo gives Quentin the option to choose any person that has hurt him or annoying him over the years to get revenge on. He chooses the school bully, Chuck Parson, who has taunted Quentin for years. For the last three years of high school, he stopped bullying Quentin at the request of Margo. Nevertheless, Margo and Quentin sneak into his house, remove one of his eyebrows with hair removal cream, and slather Vaseline on all of the door handles in his house. After getting revenge on Chuck, they break into SeaWorld, where they are caught by a security guard for trespassing. However, Margo uses her persuasive abilities to get Quentin and herself out of any serious trouble.

Following their trip to SeaWorld, Margo and Quentin return to their homes around dawn. After their excursion, Quentin, who barely makes it to school on time, spend the entire day thinking about how things have changed. He wonders if Margo will start hanging out with him and his friends, Ben and Radar, but Margo doesn't show up to school that day or following. After she has been missing for three days, her parents file a report. Margo has run away four times in the past so her parents are more frustrated than worried. After learning that Margo has run away, Quentin notices a poster of Woody Guthrie taped to the back of her shades. The poster leads him to a song called Walt Whitman's Niece, which, in turn, leads him to a book of poems, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass to section 6 "Song Of Myself". The poem has highlighted sections that Q believes to be clues left by Margo to lead him to where she is. Q continues to search for clues and finds an address scrawled on a small piece of paper located in his door. Hoping it will lead them to where she is hiding, Quentin and his friends skip school the following day and go to the place on the piece of paper. They find an old abandoned mini-mall in Christmas, Florida which contains evidence that Margo was recently there, as well as a spray-painted message on the wall implying he should expect to find her body. This validates Q's growing belief that Margo's eccentricity was an act to cover a growing depressive state, and confirms for him that she has committed suicide.

Eventually the clues lead Quentin to believe that Margo may be hiding out (or buried) in one of the many abandoned subdivision projects around Orlando; what Quentin’s mother likes to call "pseudovisions". He drives to all of the pseudovisions where he feels she may be hiding, but has no luck locating her. While getting ready for graduation, Quentin makes a connection using a map he found searching for her and matches it up with holes from tacks in the mini-mall, which leads him to discover that Margo has been hiding in a fictional town in New York called Agloe, which was created as a copyright trap by mapmakers, near the existing town of Roscoe, New York. Q, Radar, Ben, and Lacey all opt to skip graduation to drive to New York to search for her. They make the drive to Roscoe, New York in just shy of twenty-four hours. They find Margo living in an old dilapidated barn. But instead of being grateful for them finding her, she reacts to their arrival as an unexpected disturbance and begins to scold them accordingly. Margo had not intentionally left any of the clues they used to find her, and states she did not want to be found. Angry at her lack of gratitude, Radar, Ben, and Lacey leave and spend the night at a motel. Gradually, Quentin realizes that the image of her that he had been creating was as fake as the one she had been showing everyone else. He grows furious at her for wasting their time and worrying her family but she argues that he just wanted a troubled girl he could save. Ultimately, Quentin comes to accept that it was unfair to expect her to be more than just a person, and she can't be blamed for being as imperfect as everyone else. After they continue to talk things over, she decides to go to New York City. They briefly kiss and Quentin wants to stay with her but it's implied that he will return home with his friends in the end, possibly to reunite some time in the future, but it is ultimately left ambiguous.


  • Quentin “Q” Jacobsen: The protagonist and narrator of the story. He has had a crush on his neighbor Margo since they were kids. Throughout their childhood and adolescent years, his crush on Margo develops. In the book, "Q" realizes his love for Margo, particularly after her disappearance. He tracks clues that he thinks Margo, who disappears, has left behind for him to help him find her. "Q" soon becomes obsessed with finding these clues and recruits his friends to help him find Margo.
  • Margo Roth Spiegelman: A self-described "paper girl" who runs away from home only to be pursued by her childhood friend, Q. Her pet dog, Myrna Mountweazel, is a reference to Lillian Virginia Mountweazel,[5] a woman who never existed, but was listed in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia.
  • Ben Starling: He is one of Q's best friends. He is in the school band and also helps Q find Margo, and in the process, becomes Lacey's boyfriend. In the beginning of the book, Ben has an obsession with prom and refers to girls as "honeybunnies".
  • Marcus “Radar” Lincoln: One of Q’s best friends. In the novel he is constantly editing pages on a website called Omnictionary (a parody of Wikipedia). He was nicknamed by Quentin and Ben after the character from M*A*S*H. His parents own the world's largest collection of black Santas, to his embarrassment, and he is in the school band. He assists Q in finding Margo. He is dating a girl named Angela.
  • Lacey Pemberton: She has been Margo's friend since kindergarten (even though Margo feels Lacey has been judgmental of her throughout the course of their friendship).She is also Ben's girlfriend. In the second half of the novel Lacey becomes involved in the search for Margo. She goes with Q, Ben and Radar to find Margo.

Themes and concepts[edit]

Appearance versus reality[edit]

In the novel, each character possess their own vision or interpretation of other characters, particularly Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q always envisioned Margo as self-centered and materialistic. However, after her disappearance, he soon learns another, deeper, more complex side to Margo. He learns of her record collection and her love for literature, particularly the poem, "Songs of Myself" from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.


The novel is written in parts. Each individual part is named for a specific metaphor used considerably in that section: "The Strings", "The Grass" and "The Vessel", respectively. Each individual chapter within the first two parts is labeled with a number. Additionally, the third part of the novel is divided into smaller sections by the hour in relation to the characters' road trip.


Throughout the novel John Green alludes to his previous novel, Looking for Alaska: "a lovely eccentric girl; a mystery that begs to be solved by clever, quirky teens;”[6]

Also, throughout the novel paper towns are mentioned numerous times. Green's first experience with paper towns occurred in his junior year of college while on a road trip. He and his travel companion came across a paper town in South Dakota called Holen. According to Green, the story of "Agloe" presented in the novel is mostly true. “Agloe began as a paper town created to protect against copyright infringement. But then people with these old Esso maps kept looking for it, and so someone built a store, making Agloe real.”[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Paper Towns received mostly positive reviews. Publishers Weekly noted that, "The title, which refers to unbuilt subdivisions and copyright trap towns that appear on maps but don't exist, unintentionally underscores the novel's weakness: both milquetoast Q and self-absorbed Margo are types, not fully dimensional characters." They also commented that the novel is "another teen pleasing read."[8] Kirkus Reviews praised the novel as "a winning combination".[9] A School Library Journal review said of the book, "Q is a great social outcast main character who sometimes thinks a little too much, but is completely relatable. Though we only really see Margo for the first third of the book, the clues really create her character and give us the feeling she's a complex person. Finding out who Margo is through the things she left behind was a really great way to develop her character."[10]

Rebecca Swain, reviewing the novel for the Orlando Sentinel, said, "Paper Towns has convinced me that jaded adult readers need to start raiding the Teen's section at the bookstore. Green, who grew up in Orlando and uses the city as a backdrop for the story, taps into the cadence of teenage life with sharp and funny writing, but transcends age with deeper insights."[11]

Robert Corwin of Arizona State University also reviewed Green’s novel and commented that “some readers may find the authors use of language and sexual content objectionable.”[12] Chelsey G.H. Philpot, editorial assistant of The Horn Book Guide, commented that “the end breaks your heart, and yet it feels right.”[13] Michael Cart wrote, “Green ponders the interconnectedness of imagination and perception, of mirrors and windows, of illusion and reality.” [12] Rollie Welch called Paper Towns “Green’s best work" up to that point.[14]

Removal from middle school reading list[edit]

On June 23, 2014, Paper Towns was removed from the summer reading list of Long Middle School in Pasco County, just days after a parent had complained to a member of the board that she disapproved of the book's "sexual content". The National Coalition Against Censorship responded to the removal by calling for the book to be re-added to the list, saying in a letter to the district superintendent that “No sound educational rationale for removing the book has been articulated, nor is it likely that one could be."[15] It was quietly restored to the reading list the following month.[16]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Paper Towns (film)

Fox 2000 is currently developing the Paper Towns film, and together with the same team that made The Fault in Our Stars, with Nat Wolff as Q.[17][18] The film will be released on July 24, 2015[19] in honor of The Fault in Our Stars movie 1-year anniversary.[20] Jake Schreier will direct the film,[21] which also stars Cara Delevingne as Margo Roth Spiegelman,[22][23] Justice Smith, Austin Abrams and Halston Sage will play as Q's friends Radar, Ben, and Lacey respectively. Jaz Sinclair also stars as Angela, Radar's girlfriend.[24]

Other editions[edit]

The paperback edition of the novel was released on September 22, 2009.[25] The book was also released in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury Publishing on May 3, 2010.[26]



  1. ^ Green, John (April 2, 2008). "The Covers of Paper Towns". John Green. Retrieved June 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (Oct 24, 2008). "Mandate, Mr.Mudd ready to roll ‘Paper’". Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  3. ^ "Best Sellers". New York Times. November 2, 2008. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Edgar Award Winners". Mystery Writers of America. 
  5. ^ "Not a Word". New Yorker. August 29, 2005. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  6. ^ Cart, Michael (June 1, 2008). "Paper Towns". Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Green, Authror’s Note, John. Author’s Notes. New York, New York: Dutton. ISBN 978-0-525-47818-8. 
  8. ^ "Paper Towns". Publishers Weekly (Dutton). September 8, 2008. p. 51. 
  9. ^ "Paper Towns". Kirkus Reviews. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  10. ^ "Paper Towns Review". School Library Journal. 
  11. ^ Swain, Rebecca (October 11, 2008). "Review: Paper Towns by John Green". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on October 25, 2008. 
  12. ^ a b Corwin, Robert (February 2008). "Paper Towns". Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Retrieved 16 March 2012. [dead link]
  13. ^ Philpot, Chelsey G.H. (July–August 2010). "What Makes a Good YA Road Trip Novel". Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  14. ^ Welch, Rollie. "‘Paper Town’ is author John Green’s best work". Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  15. ^ Tobar, Hector (1 July 2014). "Florida school nixes John Green's 'Paper Towns,' prompts outcry". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (29 July 2014). "John Green books come under parental fire again". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  17. ^ Green, John. "Paper Towns will have the same screenwriters (@iamthepuma and @thisisweber), same producers (@wyckgodfrey), same studio, AND @natandalex.". Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  18. ^ Fleming, Jr., Mike (March 24, 2014). "Fox 2000 Grabs John Green Novel ‘Paper Towns’, Reunites ‘Fault In Our Stars’ Team With Nat Wolff To Star". Deadline. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Motsinger, Carol (October 27, 2014). "'Paper Towns' will begin filming in Charlotte next week". Citizen-Times. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  21. ^ John Green (September 4, 2014). "EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT: The Paper Towns movie will be directed by the brilliant @jakeschreier, who previously made "Robot and Frank."". Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  22. ^ Justin Kroll (September 16, 2014). "Cara Delevingne Lands Female Lead in John Green’s ‘Paper Towns’ (EXCLUSIVE)". Retrieved September 16, 2014. 
  23. ^ John Green (September 16, 2014). "VERY EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! @Caradelevingne will play Margo Roth Spiegelman in the Paper Towns movie.". Retrieved September 16, 2014. 
  24. ^ Andrew Sims (October 15, 2014). "‘Paper Towns’ adds Jaz Sinclair as Radar’s girlfriend Angela". Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Paper Towns (9780142414934): John Green: Books". Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Paper Towns (Book) by John Green (2010)". Waterstones. Retrieved May 5, 2010.