Paper Towns: Book Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explores the plot of John Green's 'Paper Towns' through quotes from the novel. We will learn about themes of connection and alienation, character conflicts, revenge plots, and mysteries yet to be solved.

Paper Towns

Quentin's jaw drops when Margo Roth-Spiegelman moves in across the street from him in Orlando, Florida. At ten years old and in love at first sight, he can't believe that she gives him the time of day. '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.'

John Green's young adult mystery novel Paper Towns unfolds into a mystery that combines themes of adolescent rebellion and identity with a genuine appreciation for poetry and the curiosities of love.

Sweet Revenge

Eight years pass. Q and Margo are now seniors at Winter Park High School, but they don't travel in the same crowds. Margo Roth-Spiegelman is the stuff of legends. At least Quentin Jacobsen likes to think about her that way. Margo's mysterious allure begins with her name: 'Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose six-syllable name was often in its entirety with a kind of quiet reverence.'

Quentin bides his time, hoping and waiting for the day, sometime in the future, when he will reap the benefits of all the work he has put into school and finally be happy. In the meantime, each and every minute of high school feels like wasted time: 'If I am ever told that I have one day to live, I will head straight for the hallowed halls of Winter Park High School, where a day had been known to last a thousand years.'

The greatest and most formative night of Quentin's life begins when Margo appears unexpectedly outside his bedroom window. Margo recruits Quentin for a secret revenge plot, mostly because she needs to borrow his car. The plan: exact revenge on Margo's (ex-)boyfriend, Jase, who cheated on her with her best friend, Becca. Their mutual 'friends' Karin, Lacey, and Chuck will also need to be dealt with. That spectacular night takes them from the Publix grocery store across town and back. Margo pranks her ex-friends, with Quentin as her wing man. Margo leaves behind the letter 'M' in spray paint, Zorro-style, as a sign of her revenge.

Margo and Quentin end up downtown. From the 25th-floor conference room of the SunTrust building, Q and Margo get a spectacular view of Orlando: 'You see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm.'

Margo Goes Missing

Margo doesn't show up at school the next day. And the next or the next. Did she run away? Is she missing? Mr. and Mrs. Spiegelman file a missing person report with the police. It's the fifth time they've called the police on their daughter.

When Quentin discovers a trail of clues, he clings to the idea that Margo engineered a plan for him to follow, a way for him to find her. 'Margo's mom had said that Margo's clues never led anywhere, but I knew now that Margo had created a chain of clues - and she had seemingly made them for me.' Perhaps Quentin follows the rabbit down the hole in order to ignore his suspicion that Margo might have committed suicide.

From a poster in Margo's bedroom window to a book on her bedside table to an abandoned souvenir shop on the outskirts of town, Quentin is led to a message spray painted on the shop wall in Margo's unmistakable scrawl: 'You will go to the paper towns and you will never come back.' By 'paper towns,' did Margo mean the 'pseudovisions' (abandoned subdivisions)?


Quentin maps out all the pseudovisions in the Orlando vicinity and expands his list of destinations until it crisscrosses the country. He sticks pushpins into the U.S. map on his bedroom wall. 'I tried to look at them as constellations, to see if they formed a shape or a letter - but I couldn't see anything. It was totally random distribution, like she'd blindfolded herself and thrown darts at the map.'

Pinning destinations on a map
map and pins

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