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Literature / Paper Towns

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The double cover for the novel.

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

Paper Towns is 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. For tropes on the film, go here.

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.
    • John Green did say once on his Tumblr that he imagined both Q and Margo as being Jewish.
  • 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.
  • Black and Nerdy: Radar, like his friends, is rather nerdy in spending a lot of his time editing Omnictionary.
  • 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."
  • Brand X: Omnictionary, a Bland-Name Product of Wikipedia.
  • 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.
  • Car Ride Games: There's a significant portion of the novel where our heroes are driving for 24 nearly-consecutive hours, so of course a couple of these come up. Most notable is "metaphysical 'I Spy.'"
  • Casanova Wannabe: Ben spends a lot of the book trying to make himself out to be very popular with the ladies.. Perhaps not so much of a Wannabe, as he ends up in a relationship with Lacey
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: As Psychologists, Q's parents are pretty good at reading people. Not so much at reading their son though. Q points this out at one point.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Margo's revenge on Lacey, especially considering the reason for her revenge turned out to be baseless. Her only crime was not having told Margo about her boyfriend's affair and she gets a catfish smashed in her car and left all night.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Depths: This whole book is about making an effort to get to really know someone, as if you make them out to be something more than what they are, it won't lead to strong relationships.
    • Margo is the biggest example where a lot of people don't know much about what she does alone in her room because she always put on a big persona to attract people.
    • Lacey is a lot smarter than a lot of people give her credit for, only thinking of her in terms of her looks.
    • Q himself. Margo tells Q that she altered her plans and left him clues to find the Osprey because he surprised her with his own hidden depths on their night time adventure. She had thought she would be turning him into a badass on this night and instead saw some of the very qualities in him she had thought weren't there.
  • 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 she's not going to be someone she isn't 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.
  • I Will Find You: The entire plot is based on Q being determined to find Margo after she disappears. Whether she actually wanted to be found is another matter entirely.
  • 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.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch:
    • Lacey is beautiful, rich, and popular, as well as shallow and sometimes Innocently Insensitive, but she's a genuinely nice person once you get past all that.
    • From some perspectives, Margo, too. She's thoughtless and borderline selfish, as well as very popular, but she does care.
  • 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.
  • Mommy Mobile: Q's parents gift him a minivan as his first car, much to his great embarrassment. He and his friends wind up using it for their road trip to find Margo.
    Q: They'd given me a minivan. They could have picked any car and they picked a minivan. A minivan. O God of the Vehicular Justice, why dost thou mock me? Minivan, you albatross around my neck! You mark of Cain! You wretched beast high ceilings and few horsepower!
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: One stop on Margo's revenge prank tour is her friend Karin's house. Karin was the one who told Margo her boyfriend was cheating, and Margo, by her own admission, shot the messenger and said some really nasty stuff to her. Once Margo had time to calm down, she genuinely felt terrible, since it wasn't Karin's fault (and she was, in fact, doing Margo a favor by telling her). She leaves Karin a bouquet of flowers and a note apologizing for the way she acted.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Karin was the one to break it to Margo that Jase was cheating. In return, Margo completely lost her temper and took it out on Karin, saying several not-so-nice things to her. After clearing her head and realizing it was true, Margo realized her mistake, which is why she leaves Karin a bouquet of flowers before leaving town.
  • 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."
  • Stepford Smiler: Margo, although even this is more complicated than it usually is. She puts on a fake character for so long she finds it too much to handle that she runs away to really find herself.
  • 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.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The characters live in a suburb of Orlando, although it is never mentioned where in Central Florida it is.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    • Margo's boyfriend was cheating on her with her best friend Becca.
    • Towards the end, Lacey accuses Margo of being a terrible friend herself. Given that Margo put a dead fish in her car for not telling her her boyfriend was cheating (even though, as it turns out, Lacey genuinely didn't know and is hurt that Margo assumed she did), and then up and vanished without even bothering to let her friends know she's alright, she might have a point.
  • Worthy Opponent: The popular kids start to seriously respect Q, and by extension his friends, after he successfully pranks them all.