Quentin Jacobson is our narrator and protagonist. He's not your average young-adult hero, though. He has two parents who are both professional and employed; he's a good student about to graduate high school; and he lives a relatively uneventful, dare we say normal, life. Nothing tortured about this kid. But one thing complicates this picture: He's obsessed with his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, and she is decidedly not normal.
At the beginning of the novel, Quentin is a nine-year-old who finds a dead body with Margo. Quentin is scared of it, backing away, but Margo approaches it. This is a good example of both of their personalities, and importantly, Quentin is fine running away and going home.
Nine years later, Margo Roth Spiegelman takes Quentin on a wild night of vandalism, revenge, and breaking and entering. Quentin is anxious, and he focuses on breathing techniques probably taught to him by his therapist parents to manage his anxiety. But once he calms down, he's able to enjoy the adventure.
So when Margo disappears the next day, Quentin decides to step outside his comfort zone again, this time to try to find her.
Quentin says he's okay with being normal, but if this were true, would he chase Margo Roth Spiegelman across the country? We think not. Thing is, Quentin often does the opposite of what he says, making him seem hypocritical at times. He says, "It's not just that I don't like prom. I also don't like people who like prom" (1.1.5)… but you know he'd go to prom with Margo Roth Spiegelman if she asked him. He even says, "I harbored ridiculous prom fantasies. But at least I didn't say mine out loud" (2.7.21). Psst… Quentin… It's okay to want to go to prom.
When he gets a nude picture of Jase, he says, "it wasn't [Jase's] fault he had a micropenis" (1.4.49)—yet he has absolutely no problem making fun of him for it. Sometimes Quentin even manages to squish his hypocrisy into one sentence: "I wasn't really pissed about [Chuck] anymore, or about everything else he'd done to me over the years. But I certainly wasn't going to lament his suffering" (1.7.17). Not "pissed," but totally down to enjoy "his suffering" anyway. Hmm…
Early on, Quentin thinks, "I thought maybe if I could be confident, something might happen between us" (1.6.37)—"us" being him and Margo Roth Spiegelman, and "something" probably not being baking cookies together.
But when Margo calls him out on this, saying "you came here because you wanted to save poor little Margo from her troubled little self, so that I would be oh-so-thankful to my knight in shining armor that I would strip my clothes off and beg you to ravage my body" (3.22.43), he says that's "bulls***" (3.22.44). Maybe his opinion of her has changed by this point, but since he's kissing her about four pages later, it doesn't seem like it.
Perhaps he's just selfish, and who isn't at that age? He says at one point that "nothing is as boring as other people's dreams" (2.1.7), proving that he'll never have a job as a motivational speaker. At his worst, Quentin laments the fact that some boys get to have sex with hot chicks like Margo Roth Spiegelman and Becca Arrington, but "perfectly likeable individuals" (1.4.25) such as himself, don't get any. So sad. Then he goes on to call Becca a "raging b****" (1.4.25). Such a Nice Guy. Our point, then, is that Quentin might get in his own way a bit when it comes to romance.
All that aside, Quentin experiences a lot of growth during the course of the novel. He realizes that Margo Roth Spiegelman is kind of a white whale (don't call her Moby), something he's chasing after that he doesn't really understand. "I barely even know her" (1.1.37), he says at one point.
But he doesn't give up. On one hand he's worried that Margo is dead, or is going to kill herself, which adds urgency to the hunt. But on the other hand, Quentin wants to find her so that he can actually get to know her. He regrets making her into a mythical creature, putting her high up on an untouchable pedestal, and he wants to get to know her for who she really is.
He perseveres (more on this in the "Themes" section) through all the clues Margo leaves behind and eventually tracks her down. In order to find her, he has to skip his high school graduation, and he does so readily.
Throughout the book, we see Quentin studying hard, getting good grades, and being concerned about college, yet skips his high school graduation to find a girl. Why does he do this? Well, it's similar to what he discovers when he sets off on a road trip to find Margo Roth Spiegelman. He says, "I can almost imagine a happiness without her, the ability to let her go, to feel our roots are connected even if I never see that leaf again" (3.15.2). Perhaps he realizes that the destination isn't what's important, it's the trip that really matters.