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Paper Towns

For the upcoming film adaptation, see Paper Towns (film)
Paper Towns
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
OCLC 202483793
LC Class PZ7.G8233 Pap 2008

Paper Towns is the third young adult novel by John Green, 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 1
  • Characters 2
  • Style 3
  • Background 4
  • Critical reception 5
  • Removal from middle school reading list 6
  • Film adaptation 7
  • Other editions 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • References 10

Plot summary

Paper Towns takes place in and around Orlando. The novel begins in a subdivision called Jefferson Park. The narrator, Quentin "Q" Jacobsen, and his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman, both young children, go to the park and discover the corpse of Robert Joyner, a divorced man who has committed suicide. The novel then flashes forward to Quentin and Margo as high schoolers who have grown apart. In the middle of a random night Margo shows up at Quentin’s bedroom window with black face paint and black clothes. She convinces him to sneak out and help her get revenge on people she feels have hurt her.

The first characters they visit are Margo’s ex-boyfriend Jase and the girl with whom he was cheating on Margo, Becca. Quentin calls Becca's parents to inform them about their daughter having sex with Jase. As Jase attempts to escape, Quentin takes a picture of him. Then, Quentin and Margo break into Becca's home, graffiti a blue ‘M’ on her wall, and leave a dead catfish for her. The second person they visit is Karin, a character mentioned only once throughout the story. They leave her a bouquet of flowers, as she is the character who informed Margo that her boyfriend was cheating on her. Upon hearing the news, Margo cursed her in disbelief. After that they go to Jase’s house, break in and leave him a fish and a turquise ‘M’. They then visit a character named Lacey, who becomes a more prominent character in the last half of the book. Margo felt that Lacey had never been a good friend to her, and that she had ridiculed her too often and made backhand comments that were truly meant as insults. They leave a fish for her in her car and graffiti a blue ‘M’ on the roof of her car. At 3:15 in the morning, they enter the SunTrust bank building and they relax on one of the higher floors for a short while. This is the first time Margo calls their town a "paper town", describing it as “fake” and “not even hard enough to be made of plastic”. Once they leave the SunTrust building, Margo asks Q on whom he would like to get revenge, and he chooses the high school bully Chuck Parson. Margo and Q sneak into his house, remove one of Chuck’s 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, but leave disappointed because none of the animals are in their showcases.

Margo and Q return to their homes close to the time they are supposed to be getting up in the morning to go to school. The next day at school all Q thinks about is 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. After Margo 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, Q 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, Q 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 Q to believe that Margo may be hiding out (or buried) in one of the many abandoned subdivision projects around Orlando; what Q’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, Q 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, Q 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, Q 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 Q 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, however that crush develops and before long Q realizes he's in love with Margo. Throughout the story he follows clues he thinks Margo, who has gone missing, left behind for him to help him find her. He 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. Towards 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 WorldHeritage). 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 incredible embarrassment, and he is in the school band. He assists Q in finding Margo.
  • 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). 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.


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' deadlined 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

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

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

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 June 19, 2015.[19] Jake Schreier will direct the film,[20] which also stars Cara Delevingne as Margo Roth Spiegelman,[21][22] 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.[23]

Other editions

The paperback edition of the novel was released on September 22, 2009.[24] The book was also released in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury Publishing on May 3, 2010.[25]




  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.  
  8. ^ "Paper Towns". Publishers Weekly (Dutton). September 8, 2008. p. 51. 
  9. ^ "Paper Towns".  
  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. 
  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".  
  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. ^ Motsinger, Carol (October 27, 2014). Paper Towns' will begin filming in Charlotte next week"'".  
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ Justin Kroll (September 16, 2014). "Cara Delevingne Lands Female Lead in John Green’s ‘Paper Towns’ (EXCLUSIVE)". Retrieved September 16, 2014. 
  22. ^ John Green (September 16, 2014). "VERY EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! @Caradelevingne will play Margo Roth Spiegelman in the Paper Towns movie.". Retrieved September 16, 2014. 
  23. ^ Andrew Sims (October 15, 2014). "‘Paper Towns’ adds Jaz Sinclair as Radar’s girlfriend Angela". Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Paper Towns (9780142414934): John Green: Books".  
  25. ^ "Paper Towns (Book) by John Green (2010)".  
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