One lovely Florida day, two nine-year-old kids are playing in the park. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. A dead body is decomposing…
Oh, gross. The kids, Quentin Jacobson and Margo Roth Spiegelman, run home to tell their parents. Quentin wants to push the whole finding-a-dead-body thing from his mind, but Margo finds out the man killed himself and wonders why.
Nine years later, Margo Roth Spiegelman, now eighteen, comes to Quentin's window in the middle of the night. They haven't really hung out since Dead Body Day, but now Margo needs a favor. She needs Quentin to drive her around on a spree of revenge against Jase Worthington, her cheating boyfriend, and anyone else who annoys her. They vandalize houses and cars with spray paint and fish, then sneak into SeaWorld as the cherry atop this vigilante sundae.
Quentin is excited that he and Margo are friends again… but she never comes back to school.
Dun dun dun…
Quentin believes that Margo Roth Spiegelman has run away from home, and is leaving him clues to her whereabouts. With his friends, Ben and Radar, Quentin investigates a paper trail (a Paper Towns paper trail) left by Margo, including her highlighted copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, that leads them to an abandoned mini-mall. When the trail goes cold, Quentin worries that Margo Roth Spiegelman's body has gone cold, too. What if she committed suicide just like the man they found nine years ago?
He eventually discovers that she is still alive, and will be in Agloe, NY on May 29. Of course, Quentin discovers this on May 28, so he and his friends skip their high school graduation to race at breakneck speed to Agloe, a "paper town" that doesn't exist on any map. It was created by mapmakers as a plagiarism detection tool. Tricky.
Someone built a general store in the general vicinity of Agloe, and Margo Roth Spiegelman has been living there. When Quentin finds her, she tells him that she never wanted to be found, and she doesn't want to go home. She's going to find a new home and try to figure out who she really is. Quentin realizes that he's idolized and been in L-U-V with a girl he doesn't really know—and now that he does know her, he has to let her go.