Paper Towns - John Green

Margo always loved Mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.
Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificent Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life - summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows. When their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Margo has disappeared. But Q soon learns that there are clues - and they're for him. Embarking on an exhilarating adventure to find her, the closer Q gets, the less he sees the girl he thought he knew.

Paper Towns is a novel written by the well-known and award-winning John Green. The author crafts a brilliantly funny and moving coming-of-age journey about true friendship and true love. The book is about relationships, dreams, rebellion against conventions and self-discovery which makes the novel attractive for young adults.

Paper Towns' two key figures: Q and Margo

Quentin Jacobsen

(p.16 ; pp.23-24 ; p.129 ; p.184 ; p.194)

  • He's smart and funny
  • He's unpunctual
  • He tends to think that people should fit the expectations he has of them
  • He likes routine and being bored
  • He's a nerd who likes to do well at school and who is worried about the future
  • He doesn't care what other people think of him

Margo Roth Spiegelman

(pp.14-15 ; p.37 ; p.54 ; pp.76-77 ; p.91 ; p.92 ; pp.94-95 ; p.131 ; p. 202)

  • She's a badass and brave
  • She doesn't judge people by their looks
  • She's pretty but doesn't care about her looks
  • She likes planning things
  • She knows how to manipulate people
  • She's the queen of Winter Park High School
  • She's troubled
  • She's attention seeking
  • She's in control and resourceful
  • She seems to live up to the multiple images people have of her but at the same time she hides her real self

As one can see, Q and Margo have very different personalities. Furthermore, their attitudes to life and their responses to events are different. Q is very cautious whereas Margo is a risk-taker. Q likes routing and fitting in. Margo on the other hand hates conformity and has a strong desire for individuality.

The parents

Portrait of Q's parents

(p.23 ; p.24 ; p.80 ; p.106 ; p.197 ; p.215 ; pp.230-231 ; p.239)

  • They put a lot of effort into raising Q
  • They are concerned about his well-being
  • They give him a lot of freedom and even encourage him to swear in front of them
  • They are proud of him
  • They are affectionate
  • They are generous
  • They trust him
  • They are understanding and supportive

Portrait of Margo's parents

(p.25 ; p.29 ; pp.26-27 ; pp.100-106 ; p.121 ; pp.296-297)

  • They are more concerned about their image than their daughter's well-being
  • They are very strict and practically treat her as a prisoner
  • They misinterpret her actions: instead of seeing Margo's adventures as a call for help they see them as a personal attack of them
  • They are embarrassed by her and consider her a sickness to the family
  • They are cold and distant
  • They give up on her and reject her when she runs away
  • They are incompetent parents

The parents' attitudes clearly influence Q's and Margo's respective behaviour.
Q's parents are supportive and loving. They encourage him to fully realize himself. Q doesn't act out because he doesn't need to. He is a well-adjusted, normal teenager, who likes hanging out with his friends and enjoys the routine of his life.
Margo's parents try to control every aspect of her life. She acts out because she craves love and attention. Her parents are unable to give her these things because they expect her to conform to the image of the well-behaved daughter. They fail to understand that her actions are a means of communication. When she tries to reach out to them, they are angry at her.

Social interactions

At the beginning of the story, there are different social circles at Winter Park High School.

Q, Radar and Ben VS. Margo and Lacey

(Chapters 1+2)
Q, Radar and Ben are not among the very popular students. They are not good at sports or particularly attractive and therefore they are not part of the students 'elite'. Ben and Radar are in the school band. Ben has to face a nasty rumour that Becca started and that he can't seem to shake.
Margo, Lacey, Becca, Chuck and Jase are the popular students because they are either attractive, wealthy or good at sports. Becca, Jase and Chuck are mean and they like tormenting other students.

But does Q really fit into any of the groups?
Q likes hanging out with his friends but he is also a loner. Unlike his friends, he is not in band, supposedly because he is tone deaf. He is also the only one who is against going to prom. Q likes being on his own and he doesn't always want to conform.

What we learn about Margo's group

(pp.16-17 ; pp.37-39 ; p.47 ; pp.49-52 ; pp.60-61 ; p.67 ; pp.87-88 ; pp.94-95 ; pp.98-99 ; p.119)
Jase is the school's top baseball player. He comes from a wealthy family. He's Margo's boyfriend but cheats on her with Becca. He also likes bullying weaker students.
Chucks is a sports jock and major bully. He made Q cry in front of the entire dance class in 6th grade. He isn't particularly smart.
Becca is supposedly Margo's best friend and yet she has an affair with Margo's boyfriend Jase. She comes from a wealthy family and is mean to other students.
Lacey has been Margo's friend since kindergarten. She is often undermining others with her comments.

After Margo has left, the group dynamics evolve. Initially, things become worse. Chuck and a few others start harassing younger students and destroy their bikes. Then Q blackmails Jase and a certain kind of peace returns to the school. A truce is called between the two groups.
(p.95 ; pp.96-98 ; p.120)

Furthermore, the status in school of Q and his friends change later on in the novel. Lets take the example of Ben. He asks Lacey to go to the prom with him and she accepts. They even become a couple. At the prom party, Ben becomes the hero of the party and is finally accepted by the cool students.

Even if the status of Q and his friends change during the novel, leaving the school liberates Q. At first he feels nostalgic. He thinks about the fact that all his actions on that day have a certain finality to them. This nostalgia becomes overwhelming when he starts cleaning out his locker. He ends up throwing most of his things away, the he walks home and is free.

Quentin Jacobsen

At the beginning of the novel, Q and Margo are not very close and they haven't really been for years. The moment Margo enters his room, Q shows us how much of a nerd he his. He doesn't want to go away in the middle of the night when there is a school day. He's scared to go on Margo's adventure and has panic attack. One can say that Q is very pedantic the entire evening.
However, Q changes at a certain point of the novel. After Margo has left, all of a sudden, the most important thing in his life is to find her.

Although his friends assist him in his investigation, Q often feels that they abandon him. But is that really the case? What happens when Q is on his own?
Q's friends don't abandon him but they aren't as obsessed as he is when it comes to finding Margo. They have other things to do in their lives for example the proms or their girlfriends. So they don't focus on Margo all the time. However, when Q needs them they are there for him. They even ship their own graduation ceremony to drive to Agloe with Q. When he is on his own, Q often makes important discoveries which brings him closer to Margo.

At the end, when Q finally finds Margo, the reader is able to compare how ten-year-old Margo saw Q to how Margo sees him at the end of the novel.
Ten-year-old Margo saw Quentin as a hero who was willing to die for her. At the end of the novel, she realizes that he has become that hero because he is the only one who cared enough about her to track her down and to drive half way across the country to find her.

Finding Margo

How does Q's perception of Margo evolve throughout the novel?

  • Margo is a miracle (p.3)
  • Margo, 'the legend' (pp.14-15)
  • First mention of the vessel (p.50)
  • The image of the balloon (pp.104-105)
  • Q realizes that he didn't know Margo (p.170)
  • Multiple Margos (p.185)
  • Margo is just a girl (p.199)
  • Margo is depressed
  • Margo's selfish reaction (p.281)
  • Margo isn't an idea but a person (p.294)

Significance of the titles of the novel's three main parts

Part I: The Strings

  • Broken Strings: instrument, balloon, puppet (Robert Joyner)

Part II: The Grass

  • Connectedness, sharing the same roots
  • Metaphor for hope, equality and death
  • Poem can be interpreted in many different ways, just like people

Part III: The Vessel

  • Q originally sees Margo as a perfect and sealed vessel
  • At the end, the vessel is cracked and therefore people can see each other for who they really are. They can see what lies beneath the myth.

Q's conclusion about Margo

Q realizes that Margo isn't a myth or an idea. She's just a normal person who has problems like everybody else. She isn't perfect. Her true self doesn't correspond to any of the images other people have of her. Margo pretends to be so many different things so that people don't get to see her real self. Because of the fact that her parents don't give her the attention she needs, she becomes an attraction to everybody else as a way of compensating.