John Green’s Paper Towns, published by Dutton Juvenile in 2008, is a novel that plays off earlier themes in his works Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines.
Quentin Jacobsen is a seventeen-year-old living in an Orlando-area high school. He has been in love with his childhood best friend, Margo, his entire life. Quentin is an intelligent boy and Margo has a reputation for being tough and cool. When they were nine years old, he and Margo shared a discovery that changed their lives forever. While walking through a park, they found a man named Robert Joyner who had killed himself. Since that night, he and Margo went separate ways. Fortunately, Quentin’s parents are therapists and other than that tragedy long ago, Quentin has lived a balanced and well-adjusted life with few risks and little drama.
A few weeks before high school graduation, Margo appears at Quentin’s window in the middle of the night. She asks him to accompany her on an all-nighter of pranks. Margo is on a litany of revenge that includes spray paint, blackmail, and breaking into Sea World. Quentin thinks that this night will bring he and Margo together again as friends. However, Margo runs away after their adventures.
Quentin turns to his friends Radar and Ben, and to Margo’s friend, Lacy, for help in an attempt to find her. They eventually skip their high school graduation and go on a cross-country trip to find or “save her.” Margo has left clues in a volume of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in the hopes that he will find her. Along the way, Quentin realizes that Margo is not really the person that he thought he knew.
Reviewers note Green’s deft hand describing the social challenges of the culture in this part of Florida with its heat, overdevelopment, and temptations. Margo’s description of their town as “a paper town” is an apt metaphor: she describes a paper town as one with cul-de-sacs and streets that turn into themselves and houses that are meant to fall apart. Critics admire Green's memorable and unusual characters in this slice of Florida life.