Paper Towns by John Green

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

– John Green, “Paper Towns”


Paper Towns is a story that essentially breaks down to three acts: the adventure, the last weeks of school, and the road trip. If you’re looking for a page turner, this book does not disappoint.

It all begins when Margo Roth Spiegelman shows up at Quinten Jacobsen’s window in the wee hours of the morning, wearing all black and black face paint. Although they’ve known each other since they were two and even discovered a dead body together at nine, they are not exactly friends. Friendly, yes. Friends, no. So it’s surprising that Margo chooses Quinten to assist her on her early morning revenge (and sort of crime) spree against her cheating boyfriend and friends who have done her wrong. It’s even more surprising that Quinten agrees.

The first part of the story sets Margo up as this larger than life character. She can always plan and see eleven steps ahead. People don’t befriend her as much as they wind up in her orbit. She’s like gravity.

And then, suddenly, she’s gone.

If Quinten ever wants to see her or hear from her again, he’s going to have to find her. It’s clear that because Margo is now eighteen, law enforcement isn’t going to find her, and Margo’s parents aren’t searching this time either. So Q and his friends Ben and Radar have a mystery on their hands. But to find Margo Roth Spiegelman, they must learn how to become Margo Roth Spiegelman, and that may prove to be an impossible task.

This book was a wild ride, even before the wild ride of the road trip to find Margo. Margo’s manic energy at the beginning of the story made my head spin. She really does fit the trope of a manic pixie dream girl, just like all of John Green’s early female book characters. If this bothers you, a bit like it did me, keep reading. Margo will break the mold, or at least crack it. She leaves both Q and the reader examining how we see others and our motivations in doing so.

Compared to the first act of the book, the second one slows down considerably, and even drags a bit. The lessons Q learns in this section are worth the slowed pace, though, and things do pick back up. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster. It has to go up chink by maddeningly slow chink in order to speed back up again. It pays off in the end.

I’ve read some criticism of the theme and ending in online forums. Many say that John Green is in love with his own brain, as if that is a negative quality or something to be ashamed of. John Green should absolutely be in love with his own brain, as we all should be in love with ours. We are the only person with whom we spend all of our time, waking and sleeping, conscious and unconscious. Moreso than with anyone else, we and our brains are ’till death do us part. So if you’ve heard anything negative about the ending, I encourage you not to buy into it. It’s a powerful ending for a coming of age novel and one that I think is important for readers who are actually in this stage of life. Not all things wrap up nicely with a bow on a pretty package. Don’t expect this book to end that way either.

“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”

– John Green, “Paper Towns”


  • The first act of this story will grab you by the hand and yank you along through the rest of the book.
  • John Green is funny. His characters are funny. He will make you think you are funny too.
  • This book includes the best road trip I’ve ever read about. I am jealous that I was not invited on this trip.


  • The second act of this story drags in comparison to the first two.
  • Margo’s mental health and the context of her home life are not explored in the depth that I wish they were.


  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Isn’t it also that on some fundamental level we find it difficult to understand that other people are human beings in the same way that we are? We idealize them as gods or dismiss them as animals.”

– John Green, “Paper Towns”

Recommended For:

  • fans of other John Green novels, especially The Fault in Our Stars
  • anyone looking for something a bit eclectic with manic energy
  • those looking for a coming of age book not centered around romance

Books to Read If You Loved Paper Towns:

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • Do we choose our friendships to find windows into who the other person is or mirrors to better show us ourselves? Is it possible to find both at the same time?
  • What coming of age novel had a profound impact on you as a young adult, or what book do you wish you had been able to access at that point in your life?
  • Who exactly is Margot Roth Spiegelman? Does Quinten ever come to see her for who she is? Do we as readers?

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