Literature / Paper Towns
The double cover for the novel.

"My miracle was that I ended up living next to Margo Roth Spiegelman."
Quentin "Q" Jacobsen

The third young adult novel written by John Green, published in October 2008.

High school senior Quentin Jacobsen (known to his friends as "Q") has been in love with his neighbor, the mysterious, beautiful, and adventuresome Margo Roth Spiegelman for as long as he can remember. So when one night she appears at his window to ask for his help in playing revenge pranks, he can't refuse. The two travel to Margo's ex-friend Becca's house, where Margo's boyfriend is cheating on her, along with her boyfriend's house, the house of an old bully, and Sea World, where Margo and Q dance together to an old song playing on the loudspeaker. At the end of the night, Margo leaves Q with a hug and says "I. Will. Miss. Hanging. Out. With. You."

The next day at school, Q is hardly surprised that Margo isn't there. But when no one sees her for days, Q and his friends Radar and Ben begin searching for the clues Margo had apparently left for Q, including a poster of Woody Guthrie on her window, parts of the poem "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, and an abandoned mini-mall where she wrote stories from her childhood and explored, with the help of Margo's best friend, Lacey. Using these clues, they must attempt to find the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Was going to be made into a movie - then not - and now has been made into a movie by the same people who adapted The Fault in Our Stars. Nat Wolff (Isaac from the film adaptation of Fault in Our Stars) plays Q and Cara Delevingne plays Margo. The film was released in July 2015 and, despite slightly mixed reviews, was a commercial success.

The novel features these tropes:

  • Affectionate Parody: Omnictionary is an online encyclopedia which attempts to be a go-to source for everything but tends to suffer from narrow interest pools and vandalism, which should put one in mind of a certain website that we are not. Similarly, Radar is an obvious Affectionate Parody of the sort of people who use said site.
  • The Alleged Car: Ben's car RHAPAW (Rode Hard And Put Away Wet), a 15-year-old Buick "composed primarily out of duct tape and spackle" that runs "not on gasoline, but the inexhaustible fuel of human hope", certainly qualifies.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: You'd be as embarrassed to bring girls home as Radar if your parents owned the world's largest collection of Black Santa Memorabilia consisting of 1200 pieces.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Q calls his car the Dreidel, mentions that he wants to say Kaddish for a dead raccoon, his parents discuss politics in Israel and Palestine at one point, and his Dad mentions knowing Hebrew.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Paper towns".
    • "All the strings in him broke."
    • "Cracked vessel" and other references to "cracked" things.
    • Various lines from Walt Whitman's poem Song of Myself, especially those related to grass.
  • Beta Bitch: Becca is the second most popular girl in school, after Margo, and is much bitchier than her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Margo's alive, Q understands her much better now although still not perfectly, and they even kiss but she's leaving, and although they make plans to see each other again, it's clear their lives are taking them in different directions.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: At the end of the book, Q and Margo get into an argument after he discovers she didn't want to be found. He insists he was merely worried for her safety, but she fires back that he probably thought he was embarking on a heroic Rescue Romance. In the ends the two agree to disagree, coming the conclusion that both of them badly misinterpreted what the other would do, and that this is okay.
  • Bottomless Bladder: Subverted. Every character urinates at least once on the 24-hour Road Trip, (Q even says Ben's role on the trip is to be the one perpetually needing to pee), but nobody mentions ever having to poop.
  • Boyfriend Bluff: Q goes out pranking with Margo at the beginning of the book. Someone hits on her and makes a comment about her "little brother," ie, Q. She tells the clerk, "Actually, he's my cousin." * grabs ass* "And my lover."
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Q to Margo, and in the final scene, she admits that the crush was mutual, and that she was also too shy to say anything.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Ben suggests that Margo is being completely literal when she quotes Whitmans "Unscrew the doors from their jambs", Radar's response is, "Sometimes, he's so retarded that he becomes kind of brilliant."
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Referenced when Q is blackmailing a classmate into paying for the bikes his friends wrecked.
    "I understand that you do not control Chuck and Jasper. But you see, I am in a similar situation. I do not control the little devil sitting on my left shoulder. The devil is saying, 'PRINT THE PICTURE PRINT THE PICTURE TAPE IT UP ALL OVER SCHOOL DO IT DO IT DO IT.' And then on my right shoulder there is a little tiny white angel. And the angel is saying, 'Man, I sure as shit hope all those freshmen get their money bright and early on Monday morning.' So do I, little angel. So do I."
  • Going Commando: The boys all make a deal to do this at graduation. (Not just a lack of underwear, but nothing but the gown). This becomes a problem when they end up rushing off on the road trip to Agloe wearing only their gowns.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: A de-fictionalised version. When the book originally came out, there weren't as many 'Sad Margo' covers as 'Happy Margo' covers, prompting fans to hunt down and buy both available versions.
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point Q notes, "I wanted to berate Ben for using chat-speak IRL."
  • Informed Flaw: When Margo disappears, Q describes her parents as assholes and the police officer called in agrees, but we're not given too many details to what made Mr. and Mrs. Spiegelman so terrible. Margo does briefly mention that shes not going to be someone shes not just to make them happy.
  • Informed Judaism: Margo makes a casual reference to her bat mitzvah money, but that's about it.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Example of a positive comparison: Lacey tastes a GoFast bar for the first time and says it "tastes like hope feels". Ben describes the taste of GoFast bars as "what blood tastes like to mosquitoes", which was probably intended as a positive comparison but makes them sound a lot less appealing.
  • Kitsch Collection: Radar's parents have the world's largest collection of black Santas. Radar (and presumably his parents) are black, but Radar is understandably hesitant to bring his girlfriend over to meet his parents and see his house.
  • Literal Metaphor: Margo leaves a clue by highlighting a line from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!" The gang considers various metaphorical meanings, but the actual clue meant that there was another clue hidden inside one of Q's door hinges.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Margo, at first. Except she's a Deconstruction, since a key point is Q's realization that "She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl." (pg 199, hardcover.) Her Stepford Smiler aspects come from the fact that she has to be this. It’s what people expect of her at this point and she feels if she doesn't behave in such a zany way, people will hurt her or grow bored of her. Still, even as a bit of a deconstruction, she did re-enter Q's life with the express purpose of making him more interesting and life-seizing. Though a big part of Q's journey is realising that she's a real person who isn't responsible for him and has her own problems and fears. He then lets her, and the dream of her, go.
  • Maybe Ever After: Q and Margo share a kiss and promise to keep in touch, but decide to move on with their lives in different directions. At one point in the final scene, she says Q makes a "good traveling companion." He asks if she's proposing to him, to which she responds with a smirk and a "Maybe."
  • May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?: Margo says she asked a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar so she could find out more about a man who committed suicide.
  • Monkeys On A Type Writer: Q to Ben: "Getting you a date to prom is so hard that a thousand monkeys typing at a thousand typewriters for a thousand years would never once type I will go to prom with Ben."
  • Nice Girl: Lacey. She comes off as spoiled and a bit shallow, but very, very loyal to her friends and ultimately glad to be friends with Q, Ben and Radar.
  • Noodle Implements: "I'm not sure what you're supposed to say to the checkout woman at twelve-thirty in the morning when you put thirteen pounds of catfish, Veet, the fat-daddy-size tub of Vaseline, a six-pack of Mountain Dew, a can of blue spray paint, and a dozen tulips on the conveyor belt..." You do find out what they're for, though.
  • Opposites Attract: Ben and Lacey. Excitable geek who is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, dating a Lovable Alpha Bitch? Believe it or not, they're not just dating, but incredibly happy together.
  • Potty Emergency: Ben ends up peeing into a beer bottle because the gang can't afford to stop their car for bathroom breaks while trying to reach Agloe in time.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Margo says to Quentin, "I. Will. Miss. Hanging. Out. With. You."
  • Red Herring: The pseudovisions and all of the Whitman poem except the line about doorjambs turn out to have no relevance to the search. Both are cut from the film version.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Radar is very fond of reminding Ben, Q, and Lacey of that time they spun around multiple times in their car, swerved off the road, nearly hit a cow, and somehow managed not to die (indeed, no one had so much of a scratch). Specifically, every five minutes. An hour after it happened.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Q's English teacher is Dr. Holden.
  • Sleep Cute: Q pictures doing this with Margo in the abandoned strip mall, but it doesn't actually happen. They finally get the chance in the last chapter.
  • Something That Begins with "Boring": Q, Ben, Radar, and Lacy play metaphysical eye spy on the road trip. They're definitely bored, but the "metaphysical" part stops it from being trivial.
  • invoked Spoiled by the Format: Lampshaded. "...Mom and Dad were watching TV. "Want to watch?" my mom asked. "They're about to crack the case." It was one of those solve-the-murder crime shows."
  • Token Minority: Radar; he even lampshades this by referring to himself as the "token black friend" of the group.
  • There Was a Door: Q and his friends end up breaking through the boarded-up windows of the mini-mall when they couldn't get the doors open by pulling. Later on, Q realizes the doors open inwards and finds that they weren't locked at all.
  • Urine Trouble: The book has school bullies shooting kids with Super Soakers filled with pee.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: At the end, after Q and Margo meet up again and she confesses she returned his crush but was also too shy to speak up, she calls him a "good traveling companion." He asks if she's popping the question, to which she responds with a cheeky grin and a "Maybe."
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Margo capitalizes random letters in a shopping list because "the rules of capitalization are so unfair to the words in the middle". It becomes a plot point later as Q identifies her as the writer of an anonymous post because of the random capitalization.
  • Water Guns and Balloons: Some mean upperclassmen throw urine-filled water balloons at freshmen before Q intervenes.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nothing is said of Margo's third friend Karin, the one who had informed Margo that Jase was cheating on her with Becca, after Margo and Q leave Flowers at her house as an apology by Margo for calling her a liar.
  • With Friends Like These...: Margo's boyfriend was cheating on her with her best friend Becca.
  • Worthy Opponent: The popular kids start to seriously respect Q, and by extension his friends, after he successfully pranks them all.

The film features these tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Q's search for Margo in the pseudodivisions and the suicide subplot were ultimately cut.
  • Adapted Out: Karin is never mentioned or seen in the film.
  • Ascended Extra: Angela who get left behind in the book during the road trip, gets to go in the film giving her a bit more focus.
  • The Cameo:
    • Ansel Elgort appears as the gas station clerk.
    • John Green as the voice of Becca's father.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Some rather large cuts were made from the second third of the story, most notably Quentin's fear that Margo killed herself ( she didn't) and his studying the Walt Whitman poem, the latter's importance in the film version being reduced to just the line about doorjambs.
  • Fanservice: Both Margo and Lacey get to wear some low-cut tops, with the former in an Absolute Cleavage dress during Q's fantasy of her.
  • Demoted to Extra: Gus, the security guard's role as a Urban Explorer is cut leaving his role in the film to just a quick scene.
  • Hidden Depths: Lacey likes Pokémon.
  • Lonely at the Top: At the end, Margo confesses to Q that she wishes she'd have stayed with his geeky crowd instead of becoming popular, because at least his friends are loyal.
  • Noodle Implements: Has the same examples as in the book but Mountain Dew is subbed out for Red Bull, which ends up playing this straight as it's never seen again unlike the Mountain Dew that get consumed by Margo and Q at the end of the night.
  • Product Placement: The Red Bull that Margo and Q buy.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: During their trip to find Margo, one of the major concerns the gang has is that they won't make it back in time for Prom. Many commercials for the movie reveal the scene where the gang is dancing together at Prom.
  • Visual Pun: When Little Quentin first lays eyes on Little Margo, his ball drops - that is, the basketball he's holding.