Paper Towns

Weeks before graduating from their Orlando-area high school, Quentin Jacobsen’s childhood best friend, Margo, reappears in his life, specifically at his window, commanding him to take her on an all-night, score-settling spree. Quentin has loved Margo from not so afar (she lives next door), years after she ditched him for a cooler crowd. Just as suddenly, she disappears again, and the plot’s considerable tension derives from Quentin’s mission to find out if she’s run away or committed suicide. Margo’s parents, inured to her extreme behavior, wash their hands, but Quentin thinks she’s left him a clue in a highlighted volume of Leaves of Grass

Quentin wouldn’t consider himself social awkward.

But he is.

Quentin’s biggest obsession is his American poetry collection. He has collected the writings of every prominent 18th century poet, and is halfway through the 19th century movement. He prefers poetry to people, and when forced to interact with his schoolmates, shuns the prose of everyday conversation. Instead he tries to respond only with quotes from his favorite works into. He records his ‘insights’ into poetry on his blog, that receives two hits a week: one from his mother, the other from his father.

He had a friend once, Margo, who not only accepted this fixation, but would make a game out of quoting back and forth. But that was in the eighth grade, and when the pair entered high school and her attention rapidly shifted from Whitman to football players and parting.

Needless to say, Quentin took this loss quite well. It was the most traumatic thing that had ever happened to him, and he fancied that this grief helped him better understand the poetry he adored. He’d watch over her from afar, mourning her loss while making no attempts at re-connecting. The few blog posts he creates that do not offer juvenile analysis of poetry are about sightings of Margo.

So a month before graduation, when Margo breaks into his bedroom to tell him in quite clear prose she needs his help settling some old scores, he decides that this experience will provide him deeper ability to relate to the poems he loves, and replies with a simple “okay.”

That night he eggs houses, slashes tires, bakes a cake, uploads scandalous videos to Facebook, and looses all respect for the popular people at his school. Margo steadily narrated the offenses they were avenging, and Quentin surprises himself by not once quoting a single poem in response.

The next day at Quentin watches police cars appear on their street, and Margo get hauled away for the petty crimes she’s committed. She returns the next day, and in a sudden anxiety attack, Quentin latches his window and pulls down the blinds. At school he literally runs away from any sight of her – until she stops coming. He doesn’t see or hear anything from her for two weeks.

And then his parents tell him she has disappeared. The police are looking for her, but have no leads. Quentin returns to his room, and opens his window to gaze out at his love’s house…to find a well marked copy of Leaves of Grass sitting on the sill.

But the markings make no sense to Quentin. The passages have no superiority, they aren’t even worthy to be made into a picture-quote. Believing Margo to be an intelligent person, he decides they must be clues, and soon discovers the markings in “Song of Myself” all describe places in a nearby town Margo and he had visited in an Elementary School field trip. Quentin tells his parents he wants to take his senior trip a week early, loads a weeks worth of audiobooks onto his iPod, and sets off in his father’s Prius. While he refuses to bring a cell phone, he promises to keep in touch via his blog, which he vows to update from libraries and apple stores. His parents realize that this means they have no way of contacting him after he has left.

In that town by the bus stop he finds an earlier addition of Leaves of Grass, leading him into central Orlando. Tucked into the last page is a folded paper from Margo, detailing the reasons why they took revenge on several of the students. Clue after clue are found and recorded on his blog. He fails to notice the view count climb with every discovery, as people back home take more and more notice. An anti-bullying campaign is launched in Margo’s name. Several of her ‘friends’ are sent to the Juvenile Detention Center, and hundreds of people leave comments on each post, suggesting what the clue should mean. Unfortunately, Quentin had ceased to receive notification for comments years ago, when he disabled the function after the realization that no one cared about his blog.

The morning of graduation, the clues in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” leads him to the Southernmost point buoy, just in time to see Margo leave one final note on top of the Buoy before wading into the ocean. She had been unaware of the fuel-efficiency of the Prius, and anticipated his arrival would be in several hours, after her successful suicide. But Quentin runs yelling after her, catching the attention of several early-morning tourists who quickly whip out smartphones and record him dragging the now half-conscious Margo out of the water.

The couple receive a police escort back to their home, where half the town wait to meet them at the police station. Both teens stare at shock at the now supportive crowd, and are whisked away to a graduation themed on acceptance and second chances.

Margo goes straight from graduation to a therapeutic center, where her family received concealing and she regained hope in her future. A few months later she joined Quentin at Berkeley, where he had inexplicably become the face of the Hipster revolution. Together, they took over the poetry society and continued to post poetry scavenger hunts on Quentin’s blog.


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