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Paper Towns


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

This contemporary coming-of-age book by John Green is published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and is written for kids ages 14 years and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Quentin Jacobsen is a high school senior preparing to graduate. While his friends, Ben and Radar, think about partying, prom dates and sex, Quentin pines for his beautiful, elusive neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman. As kids, Quentin and Margo were friends who shared the traumatic experience of finding a dead man in the park. As they grew older, Margo became popular while Quentin hung out with kids in band who weren’t popular.

Late one night, a few weeks before graduation, Margo appears at Quentin’s bedroom window. She tells him she’s chosen him as her accomplice for a night of mayhem and payback. Quentin drives his parents’ minivan and helps Margo. She wants revenge. Her boyfriend, Jason, and her friend Becca have been secretly sleeping together. Margo also wants to target her friends who didn’t share their knowledge of Jason’s dalliance with Becca with her.

Quentin and Margo break up Becca and Jason’s midnight sexual encounter by calling Becca’s parents and telling them who is in their daughter’s room. They put a lock on Jason’s steering wheel so he’s stuck on the street, nearly naked, after running from Becca’s house. They also break into homes and cars, leaving raw fish inside and vandalizing property. At the end of the evening, Margo and Quentin break into SeaWorld just for kicks. She takes him to the top of a tower in the city and talks cryptically about the paper towns below.

The next day, Margo disappears. She has run away from home before on several occasions. But as the days pass, Quentin is convinced that this time is different. He also believes she’s leaving him clues to help him find her. Aided by Margo’s sister, Quentin gets into Margo’s room. He looks through her maps and guidebooks, and he finds potential clues in song lyrics and her highlighted copy of the poem “Leaves of Grass.”

He spends the next week and a half trying to follow her trail, which leads first to an abandoned strip mall. The more he reads the Walt Whitman poem, the more he fears Margo plans to kill herself. Poring over her maps and seeing a clue posted online, he finally determines she’s gone to New York and will only be there until the night after graduation. He learns the term paper towns was once used to describe fictitious cities some map companies included on their products.

If the paper town showed up on another company’s map, the mapmakers would know their designs had been stolen. Quentin finds one such paper town called Agloe on Margo’s route. He reads that Agloe consists only of a defunct general store.

Quentin plots out the trip and discovers he can just make it in time to save her if he drives above the speed limit all the way with minimal stops. Ben, Radar and Ben’s girlfriend, Lacey, also ditch graduation to make the epic 19-hour road trip with him. They subsist on energy drinks and junk food while taking shifts at the wheel and making carefully timed pit stops.

Quentin and his friends find Margo living in the abandoned Agloe General Store. His investigation into her disappearance and his road trip have taught him to push through his fears, follow his heart and see people for who they are rather than who everyone wants them to be. When Margo sees the courageous side of Quentin, and when she realizes he can see her for more than her popular façade, she asks him to travel with her. They kiss and bury Margo’s journal, symbolizing the burial of the people they once were. Quentin ultimately decides he can’t go with her and forfeit his entire future, but they promise to remain in touch and meet again.

Christian Beliefs

Radar contends that John Coltraine’s sax playing is the most convincing proof of God’s existence he’s ever encountered. Quentin’s teacher says when reading “Leaves of Grass,” one must come to the conclusion that life is sacred and valuable. Quentin finds a phrase in Whitman’s poem that he decides is a metaphor for God’s greatness and for hope.

Other Belief Systems

Margo’s sister says their family doesn’t believe in hell. Ben likens his fear to the powerful force that propelled the evolutionary process.

Authority Roles

Quentin’s psychologist parents, though loving to him and each other, constantly analyze him and everyone else. They like it when he curses in front of them, as they think it means he trusts them. They believe themselves to be excellent and enlightened parents, but they readily fall for his lies and deception. Frustrated by Margo’s frequent disappearances, Margo’s parents change the locks on the doors when she leaves. They say she’s 18 and can make her own decisions.

Profanity & Violence

The Lord’s name is used in vain frequently and in many forms, as are other profanities including s—, d–n, sucks, crap, h—, b–ch, a–, b–tard, p—ed and screw. The f-word is also used a lot.

Sexual Content

Kids make frequent jokes about anatomy, using words such as penis, phallus, balls, nuts, scrotum and breasts. A bully calls Quentin a faggot several times. Although Quentin isn’t gay, he insists there is nothing embarrassing about being homosexual. Numerous discussions about sex include topics such as losing virginity, hooking up, cybersex, STDs, satisfying women, playing with oneself, sleeping with a friend’s mother, orgasmic pleasure and condom machines in gas station bathrooms. Teens call each other names such as pervert, whore, douche, d—licker and pimp. Ben’s car is nicknamed RHAPAW, which stands for Rode Hard and Put Away Wet.

Margo and Quentin call Becca’s parents to let them know Jason is in their basement having sex with their daughter. When he hears the parents coming, Jason runs out of the house, half-clothed. At a party, Quentin watches through a crack in the door as Becca and Jason roll around on the bed half-dressed, kissing. Lacey tells Quentin about the STD she had and how word got out that she was a slut.

Discussion Topics


Additional Comments

Suicide: As children, Margo and Quentin find the body of a man who has killed himself. The man’s neighbor speculates it was because he was upset about his impending divorce. Quentin fears Margo is planning to kill herself when she goes missing.

Purging: Quentin sticks his fingers down his throat to make himself throw up so his mom will think he’s sick and let him miss school.

Lying: Ben lies to his parents frequently.

Underage drinking: Quentin’s friends drink at pre-graduation parties. They call him from a party he doesn’t attend, urging him to come. The main reason they want him there is they’re all drunk and need a designated driver. When Quentin arrives at the party, some of his friends continue to drink. Ben does a “keg stand” where other kids hold him upside down over a keg and he tries to see how many seconds he can drink in that position. He breaks a school record by drinking that way for over a minute, and he’s very proud of his accomplishment. The kids show no remorse, and there are no consequences except for some hangover-related headaches and vomiting.

Other illegal behavior: Margo and Quentin break into cars, homes and SeaWorld. They leave fish in closed-up cars and spray-paint on people’s property. Quentin purposely speeds most of the way to New York to get to Margo in time. The teens show no remorse and receive no consequences for these actions.

Smoking: Kids smoke at a pre-graduation party.

Bible reference taken out of context: As Margo and Quentin head out on their night of revenge, Margo notes they will be righting some wrongs. She says the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and the meek will do some earth inheriting.