Paper Towns

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"Paper towns" redirects here. For the film adaptation, see Paper Towns (film). For the item added to maps as a copyright trap, see Fictitious entry.
Paper Towns
Paper Towns covers.jpg
The two[1] first edition covers
Author John Green
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young Adult, 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] The novel explores the coming of age and search of the protagonist, Quentin "Q" Jacobsen, for Margo Roth Spiegelman, his neighbor and childhood love interest. Along his search, Quentin and his friends, Ben, Radar, and Lacey, discover more about the real Margo.[3] John Green gained inspiration for this book, through his experience and knowledge of "paper towns", during a road trip through South Dakota.[4]

It debuted at number five on the New York Times bestseller list for children's books[5] and was awarded the 2009 Edgar Award for best young adult novel.[6] A film adaptation was released on July 24, 2015.

Plot summary[edit]

Paper Towns takes place in and around a fictional subdivision called Jefferson Park, located in suburban 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 had committed suicide in the park. Following this incident, the novel flashes forward to present-day Quentin and Margo, who are now seniors at Winter Park High School that have grown apart from each other. However, a month before their high school graduation, Margo shows up at Quentin's bedroom window 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 the tasks. So, she convinces Quentin to sneak out and help her seek revenge.[7]

As part one of their mission, Margo and Quentin visit her ex-boyfriend, Jase, and her best friend, Becca. Jase had cheated on Margo with Becca, and Margo took Quentin along for the help to get payback. As a naked Jase attempts to escape the house and wrath of Becca's dad, Quentin takes a picture of him naked, later to be used as blackmail. 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 with a note saying that their friendship "sleeps with the fishes". After the incident with Becca and Jase, they visit Karin and leave her a bouquet of flowers because she informed Margo that Jase was cheating on her. Upon the revelation of this news, Margo cursed her out in disbelief.[8]

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. 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 a.m., they sneak into the SunTrust Center 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."[9] Once they leave the SunTrust building, Margo gives Quentin the option to choose any person that has bothered him over the years to get revenge on. He chooses the school bully, Chuck Parson, who has taunted Quentin since middle school. For the last three years of high school, he stopped bullying Quentin at the request of Margo. Nevertheless, Margo and Quentin proceed to get revenge on Chuck. They sneak into his house, remove one of his eyebrows with hair removal cream, and slather Vaseline on all of the door handles in his home. 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.[10]

Margo and Quentin return to their homes around dawn. After their excursion, Quentin spends 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. However, Margo does not show up to school that day or the following. After she has been missing for three days, her parents file a police report. Margo has run away four times before in the past, so her parents are more frustrated than worried about her. Her mother even reveals that she plans on changing the locks, so that regardless if Margo decides to come back, she will be unable to. Quentin was the last person to see Margo, so he is questioned by a police detective. He does not reveal much. However, soon after his conversation with the detective, Quentin notices a poster of Woody Guthrie taped to the back of Margo's bedroom shades. As soon as her parents leave her house, Quentin, Ben, and Radar search through her room. The poster leads them to a song in her music collection called "Walt Whitman's Niece". This then leads them to Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself", which is a part of his poetry collection Leaves of Grass. Margo has left a copy of the poem in her room with highlighted sections. Quentin believes that she has left the highlighted sections as clues for him to find her. Thus, he spends countless days and nights reading and re-reading the poem to search for clues of her whereabouts. After taking advice from Ben, Quentin one day decides to unhinge his door. In the poem, Margo has highlighted a line where Whitman discusses this. Quentin soon finds a small piece of paper with an address on it located in his door. Hoping it will lead them to where Margo is, Quentin and his friends decide to skip school the following day to visit the address on the piece of paper. They find an old abandoned mini-mall in Christmas, Florida that contains evidence of her recent presence and a morbid message spray painted on the walls. Quentin struggles to analyze the message. On one hand, he believes that it confirms her suicide. While, on the other, he believes that it validates his hypothesis that Margo was entirely too fed up with her fake life.[11]

Eventually, the clues lead Quentin to believe that Margo may be possibly hiding out or buried in one of the many abandoned subdivision projects or "pseudovisions" around Orlando. Consequently, he drives to all of the pseudovisions where he feels that she may be hiding, but has no luck locating her. On the day of his graduation, while getting ready, Quentin makes a connection with a map that he found in the abandoned strip mall to the one that he made in an attempt to locate her. He matches up the holes from the tacks in the mini-mall to his map. This 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. As a result, Quentin, Radar, Ben, and Lacey all opt to skip graduation, in order to drive to New York to search for her. Quentin discovers in the Omnictionary page of Agloe that Margo plans to leave the location on May 29 at noon. Thus, they must make the drive to Roscoe in under twenty-four hours.[12]

In Agloe, they discover that Margo is living in an old, dilapidated barn. She is shocked to see them, which angers the group. They expected for her to be grateful of their presence. However, she reacts to their arrival as an unexpected disturbance and begins to scold them accordingly. Margo had not left any of the clues that they used to find her intentionally. She claims that she did not want to be found. Angry at her lack of gratitude, Radar, Ben, and Lacey leave the barn and spend the night at a motel. Gradually, Quentin realizes that the image he had of her was as fake as the one that she had been emitting to everyone else. As a result, he becomes furious at her for wasting his time. His anger forces Margo to argue that Quentin saved her for egotistical reasons. He wanted to be the hero who saved the troubled girl. Ultimately, Quentin accepts that it was unfair for him to expect that Margo would live up to the perfect image he built of her. After their deep conversation, Margo decides to go to New York City and offers Quentin to accompany her. They briefly kiss. Quentin wants to stay with her, but understands that his responsibilities and the nature of his life at home restrict him from doing so. Margo ends up inviting him to travel with her, but he declines, still treasuring the idea of a boring, but successful future. In the last few lines of the novel, Margo and Quentin vow to keep in contact.[13]


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, Quentin realizes his love for Margo, particularly after her disappearance. Before she leaves, Margo leaves clues to her eventual location. Quentin soon becomes obsessed with finding these clues and recruits his friends to help him find Margo. His desire to find Margo results in him neglecting school and his friends, which Radar rebukes him for. His obsession, in turn, causes him to possess this fantastical and essentially perfect image of Margo. Towards the end of the novel, he discovers that his image and expectations of her were unreal.
Margo Roth Spiegelman
A self-described "paper girl" who runs away from home only to be pursued by her childhood friend, Quentin. In contrast with Quentin, Margo is assertive but from a dysfunctional family. Margo is one of the most popular girls at her local high school. Due to her unhappiness with the "falsity" of her setting, she decides to leave town. However, before she leaves town, she enlists Quentin to help her fulfill a revenge plan on everyone that has mistreated her.[14] In the beginning of the novel, she discovers that her boyfriend, Jase, is cheating on her with her best friend, Becca.[15] In the past, Margo has run away from home four times.[16] She has a love for American literature, music, and travel. Her pet dog, Myrna Mountweazel, is a reference to Lillian Virginia Mountweazel,[17] a woman who never existed, but was listed in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia.
Ben Starling
One of Quentin and Radar's best friends. Travels with them and his girlfriend, Lacey. Had a story spread about him called "Bloody Ben" when Becca said that he has blood in his urine due to chronic masturbation, when in reality it was just a kidney infection. Holds keg-stand record, peed in many bottles on the journey to Agloe, New York, and saved the lives of himself, Radar, Lacey, and Quentin when the car was about to crash into an enormous white cow.
Marcus "Radar" Lincoln
He is one of Quentin's best friends. In the novel, he is constantly editing pages on a website called Omnictionary, a website very similar to Wikipedia. He was nicknamed by Quentin and Ben after the character from M*A*S*H.[18] To his embarrassment, his parents own the world's largest collection of black Santas.[19] He is in the school band. Like Ben, Radar assists Quentin in finding Margo. He is dating a girl named Angela. Throughout the novel, Radar often possesses the most insight about Quentin. He even criticizes Quentin for his Margo obsession and selfishness.[20]
Lacey Pemberton
She has been one of Margo's closest friends since kindergarten. However, Margo and Lacey have a strange friendship. Margo feels that Lacey has always been judgmental of her throughout the course of their relationship.[21] In the beginning of the novel, Margo vandalizes Lacey's car (by planting a dead catfish under a seat and spray painting the roof) out of anger at the fact that Lacey did not tell her about Jase and Becca.[22] However, Lacey was unaware of their relationship. When Margo disappears, Lacey becomes concerned and involved in the search. She befriends Quentin, Ben, and Radar to help look for Margo. Lacey even has her cousin place flyers all over New York City, a place where Margo supposedly told her ex-boyfriend that she wanted to go, in search of her.[23] In the novel, Lacey becomes Ben's girlfriend and prom date. Her character develops more towards the second half of the text, as she becomes more involved in the search for Margo. She even skips graduation to go with Quentin, Ben, and Radar to find Margo.[24]


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


John Green, author of Paper Towns

Throughout the novel, the concept of "paper towns" is mentioned several times. As a former Orlando resident, John Green has seen and heard of many "paper towns". However, his first experience with a "paper town" occurred during his junior year of college, while on a road trip. In South Dakota, he and his friend came across a "paper town" called "Holen". At the end of the novel, John Green states that the story of Agloe presented in the text 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."[25]

Critical reception[edit]

Paper Towns received mostly positive reviews. Publishers Weekly said 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".[26] Meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews praised the novel as "a winning combination."[27] Similarly, School Library Journal said that "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."[28]

Furthermore, Rebecca Swain of Orlando Sentinel stated: "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."[29] Similarly, Chelsey G.H. Philpot, editorial assistant of The Horn Book Guide, commented that "the end breaks your heart, and yet it feels right."[30] Meanwhile, Rollie Welch called Paper Towns "Green's best work" up to that point.[31] Critics, such as Michael Cart, praise John Green for his symbolism and ability to synthesize imagination and reality: "Green ponders the interconnectedness of imagination and perception, of mirrors and windows, of illusion and reality."[32] Nevertheless, there has been some criticism and objection towards the text. Robert Corwin of Arizona State University argues that "some readers may find the author's use of language and sexual content objectionable."[32]

The Cleveland Plain Dealer stated, “Readers will find that the structure and central mystery of Paper Towns echo Green's debut, 'Looking for Alaska', and Gregory Galloway's 2005 novel, As Simple As Snow," and Kirkus Reviews wrote that Green's novel was “reminiscent" of Galloway's novel."[27]

Removal from middle school reading list[edit]

On June 23, 2014, Paper Towns was removed from the summer reading list for 13 year olds at the Dr John Long Middle School in Pasco County, after a parent complained to a board member 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 reinstated into the reading list. In a letter to the district superintendent, the organization argued that "No sound educational rationale for removing the book has been articulated, nor is it likely that one could be."[33] Consequently, it was restored to the reading list the following month.[34]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Paper Towns (film)

Fox 2000 developed the Paper Towns film with the same team that made The Fault in Our Stars. Jake Schreier directed the film.[35] Nat Wolff, who played a role in the film version of The Fault in Our Stars, starred as Quentin or "Q",[36][37] Cara Delevingne played Margo Roth Spiegelman,[38][39] and Justice Smith, Austin Abrams, and Halston Sage played Quentin/Q's friends, Radar, Ben, and Lacey, respectively. Jaz Sinclair appeared in the film as Angela, Radar's girlfriend.[40] The film was released on July 24, 2015.[41]

Other editions[edit]

The paperback edition of the novel was released on September 22, 2009.[42] The book was also released in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury Publishing on May 3, 2010.[43]



  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. ^ Green 2008, p. 305.
  4. ^ Green 2008, p. 306.
  5. ^ "Best Sellers". New York Times. November 2, 2008. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Edgar Award Winners" (PDF). Mystery Writers of America. 
  7. ^ Green 2008, p. 2-30.
  8. ^ Green 2008, p. 31-46.
  9. ^ Green 2008, p. 57.
  10. ^ Green 2008, p. 53-79.
  11. ^ Green 2008, p. 85-149.
  12. ^ Green 2008, p. 150-239.
  13. ^ Green 2008, p. 279-305.
  14. ^ Green 2008, p. 25-30.
  15. ^ Green 2008, p. 37.
  16. ^ Green 2008, p. 101.
  17. ^ "Not a Word". New Yorker. August 29, 2005. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  18. ^ Green 2008, p. 12-13.
  19. ^ Green 2008, p. 22.
  20. ^ Green 2008, p. 194-195.
  21. ^ Green 2008, p. 49-50.
  22. ^ Green 2008, p. 50.
  23. ^ Green 2008, p. 120-122.
  24. ^ Green 2008, p. 240.
  25. ^ Green 2008, p. 206.
  26. ^ "Paper Towns". Publishers Weekly. Dutton. September 8, 2008. p. 51. 
  27. ^ a b "Paper Towns". Kirkus Reviews. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  28. ^ "Paper Towns Review". School Library Journal. 
  29. ^ Swain, Rebecca (October 11, 2008). "Review: Paper Towns by John Green". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on October 25, 2008. 
  30. ^ Philpot, Chelsey G.H. (July–August 2010). "What Makes a Good YA Road Trip Novel". Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  31. ^ Welch, Rollie. "'Paper Town' is author John Green's best work". Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  32. ^ a b Corwin, Robert (February 2008). "Paper Towns". Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Retrieved 16 March 2012. [dead link]
  33. ^ Tobar, Hector (1 July 2014). "Florida school nixes John Green's 'Paper Towns,' prompts outcry". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  34. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (29 July 2014). "John Green books come under parental fire again". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  35. ^ 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. 
  36. ^ Green, John. "Paper Towns will have the same screenwriters (@iamthepuma and @thisisweber), same producers (@wyckgodfrey), same studio, AND @natandalex.". Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  37. ^ 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. 
  38. ^ Justin Kroll (September 16, 2014). "Cara Delevingne Lands Female Lead in John Green's 'Paper Towns' (EXCLUSIVE)". Retrieved September 16, 2014. 
  39. ^ John Green (September 16, 2014). "VERY EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! @Caradelevingne will play Margo Roth Spiegelman in the Paper Towns movie.". Retrieved September 16, 2014. 
  40. ^ Andrew Sims (October 15, 2014). "'Paper Towns' adds Jaz Sinclair as Radar's girlfriend Angela". Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  41. ^
  42. ^ "Paper Towns (9780142414934): John Green: Books". Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  43. ^ "Paper Towns (Book) by John Green (2010)". Waterstones. Retrieved May 5, 2010.