Study Guide

Paper Towns

By John Green

Paper Towns Introduction

There are a few essentials for every road trip:

  • A car, preferably one with heated seats and lots of cup holders
  • Bottled beverages to put in the cup holders (with openings large enough to pee in)
  • Snacks, the crunchier the better—shaking crumbs from the floor mats at the end of the trip is a key part of the experience
  • Friends, to eat your snacks and take the wheel when you're peeing in a bottle
  • A map (if for some reason you're traveling in 1994), a GPS (if you're traveling in 2004), or a smartphone with a navigation app (if you're in 2014 or beyond)
  • Reading material
  • Dramamine, so you can actually read the reading material

We don't have any snack recommendations (although you can never have too many salt 'n' vinegar chips), but we do have a reading recommendation for those quiet moments on the road: Paper Towns by John Green. It features mystery, fun, and the best road trip this side of The Amazing Race.

In Paper Towns, eighteen-year-old Quentin Jacobson is in love with the girl next door, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Margo Roth Spiegelman isn't your typical Jessica Simpson/Alba/Biel girl next door, though. She has eclectic taste in music, likes breaking into abandoned buildings and theme parks, and… is missing. After a memorable night with Quentin (no, not that memorable—get your mind out of the gutter), Margo Roth Spiegelman runs away from home. Quentin fears that she is going to hurt herself, and he's determined to find this girl of his dreams.

Paper Towns was published in 2008, a.k.a. four years before The Fault in Our Stars. This book, John Green's third novel, debuted at number five on the New York Times bestseller list and won both the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery in 2009 and the Corine International Book Prize in 2010, one of the only English-language books to win that year.

About that Edgar Award: Paper Towns is an intriguing mystery. When Margo Roth Spiegelman disappears, she leaves behind a trail of clues that leads Quentin to her whereabouts, and makes him ask a few questions: Where is Margo Roth Spiegelman? Why did Margo Roth Spiegelman disappear? Is Margo Roth Spiegelman still alive? Who is the real Margo Roth Spiegelman? And why do we always use all three of her names?

The New York Times drew parallels between Paper Towns and Casablanca, and if you're the kind of person who likes to see your books on the big screen, then you're in luck. Paper Towns is getting the deluxe film adaptation treatment, featuring Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff as the two leads. If only we could go back in time and cast a young Lauren Bacall as Margo Roth Spiegelman… Oh well, we're sure Nat and Cara will do fine. Here's looking at you, kids.

Before you pop that popcorn, though, we suggest you hop in the car and take a road trip or two with your friends, and maybe even read a bit of Paper Towns along the way.

What is Paper Towns About and Why Should I Care?

Are you the person you present yourself as on Facebook? Are you always happy, hanging out with friends, playing games, and listening to Spotify? Of course not. Life has its ups and downs and twists and turns, but you probably don't post all of the bad things to social media. And if you're like lots of people, you probably paint a pretty rosy picture, hoping people will see you as you wish you were (or as you think they'll like you most), instead of as you really are, warts and all.

In Paper Towns, Margo Roth Spiegelman does just this, and it works pretty well. People think she's awesome, the elusive and mysterious cool girl that everyone wants to either date or be friends with. But note we said it works pretty well—because the thing is, Margo Roth Spiegelman gets pretty fed up with a life that's just a façade. While everyone loves her, nobody really knows her. And this—this lost-ness—sets the whole book in motion. Margo has simply got to find herself.

So pick up Paper Towns. Maybe the next time you're on Instagram you'll think twice before putting a filter on your real life.

Paper Towns Resources

Websites

Digital Towns
No paper was used in the making of this website.

Nerdfight
John Green's fans (a.k.a. nerdfighters) have their own tumblr. "An awesome tumblr for awesome people." That means you.

Movie or TV Productions

No Fault in These Stars
IMDB is like a map of movies, but the Paper Towns movie isn't a paper town itself; it's real. Use this page to scope it out.

Articles and Interviews

The Fault in Our Cars
Bob Hassett of The Washington Post says that Paper Towns is better than A Fault in Our Stars. Yeah, we'd take a road trip over cancer any day, too.

Building a Mystery
No, not a Sarah McLachlan song, but an interview with Green about his nomination for Paper Towns from the Mystery Writers of America.

Extra Ordinary
Is leading an extraordinary life as simple as choosing to live one? Green seems to think so (although he doesn't think the choice is easy).

Pants Power
That's an anagram for Paper Towns. Other fun facts abound in this interview.

Video

Not About Dragons
Green attempts to define his own book, without resorting to outright lies.

Pumpkinhead
If you really like the epigraph, or you're too lazy to read it yourself, here's Green to read it to you.

Too Many Friends
Paper Towns was so popular, Green maxed out his friends on Facebook.

A Lonely Goatherd
The Mountain Goats appear in both the epigraph and the novel itself. Take a listen.

Audio

Plastic Towns
This copy of paper towns is made of plastic instead of paper: it's the audiobook version.

Images

Walt Freaking Whitman
Margo Roth Spiegelman's copy of Leaves of Grass probably looks a lot like this one, with Whitman's studly visage on the cover.

Climb Your Veggies
Here's the Tower of Light, or what Q and Margo Roth Spiegelman call "The Asparagus." Does looking at it make your pee smell funny?