The two main characters in John Green’s “young adult” novel Paper Towns are Margo and Quentin, or “Q.” While Margo’s character disappears for a lengthy section of the novel, however, hers remains a major presence in Green’s story, and the motivating subject for the action that centers around Q. Paper Towns begins with a brief preface introducing the reader to these two children, two-years-old when their respective families move into the same newly developed neighborhood in Orland, Florida. Early and important indications of Margo and Q’s personalities are provided in Chapter One when the two children, now aged nine, discover a dead body in the park:
“As I took two steps back, Margo took two small and equally quiet steps forward. . .We got on our bikes and I let her go in front of me because I was crying and didn’t want her to see.”
With this description of their respective reactions to the bloody sight of the dead man, we are presented with a good sense of Margo and Q’s characters, with the former providing the more inquisitive and bold temperament and the latter clearly more of a follower than a leader. Further details regarding these characters soon follow, as Q, the story’s narrator, provides the following insights into his and his family’s dynamics:
“Both my parents are therapists, which means that I am really goddamned well adjusted, so when I woke up I had a long conversation with my mom about the cycle of life, and how death is part of life, but not part of life.”
While Q responds to this traumatic event by taking a nap and consulting his therapist parents, though, Margo has reacted by launching her own investigation into the circumstances of the man’s death.
The two characters, despite these close early bonds, diverge greatly as they mature and become teenagers. Margo’s disappearance, as noted, drives the novel’s ensuing plot, but the relationships between Q and his friends, Ben, Marcus and Lacey, as they search for the missing Margo, elevate these individuals to a more prominent status in the story than that of Margo. Ben and Marcus are similar to Q in high school social demographics, both being in the school band and Marcus devoting much of his spare time to editing an online information website called “Omnictionary.” In other words, the three boys are not representative of the category of teenager identified with star athletes, but rather fall more into the “nerd” category. Similarly, Lacey, a female friend of Margo’s, hardly qualifies for leadership status in teenage hierarchies, as the following passage from a conversation between Margo and Q reveals as the two discuss Margo’s plan to break into a house and Q’s reluctance to commit a crime:
“No,” I answered firmly.
“No, it’s not a felony, or no, you won’t help?”
“No, I won’t help. Can’t you enlist some of your underlings to drive you around?” Lacy and/or Becca were always doing her bidding.
Again, with this passage, the reader is reminded of the social dominance of Margo and the subordinate positions of those around her. Margo is the most strong-willed of the teenagers, but also the most deeply troubled.