Quentin lives in Jefferson Park, Florida, a subdivision outside of Orlando. He has always been infatuated with his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. One day, when Quentin and Margaret were nine, they were playing in a park when they discovered a dead, bloodied man slumped against a tree. Though Quentin’s instinct is to run away, Margo is curious and explores the body. Quentin’s parents call 911. The next day, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window and tells him that she has conducted an investigation around the neighborhood to find out about the body. She’s discovered that the man’s name was Robert Joyner and that he had committed suicide after getting a divorce. To explain why he had killed himself, Margo suggests that maybe “all the strings inside of him broke.”
At 7:17 in the morning, Quentin catches a ride to school in his mom’s minivan. Though that would be early for most kids, it’s late for Quentin, because he and his friends typically hang out near the band room and talk before school starts. Nearly all of Quentin’s friends are in band, though Quentin is not. He and his mom discuss prom on the ride over. Quentin’s parents are both therapists, and they try to keep all lines of communication very open between themselves and Quentin. Quentin is not excited about prom, but his best friend, Ben, is obsessed with figuring out a way to get a date with a “honeybunny,” his generic term for a woman. Ben informs Quentin that Radar, their other best friend, already has a date. Quentin gets distracted when he sees Margo Roth Spiegelman with her boyfriend, Jase, and he daydreams about her adventurous life. Quentin and Ben meet up with Radar, who, as usual, is working on Omnictionary, a Wikipedia-like website that Radar checks and edits obsessively. Radar confirms that he’s going to prom.
Chuck Parson, a stereotypical meathead, asks Quentin what he knows about Margo and Jase, and Quentin truthfully tells him that he knows nothing. At lunch, Angela, Radar’s girlfriend, asks Ben and Quentin why Radar has never invited her over. When Ben and Quentin relay this information to Radar, Radar says it’s because his parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas. Quentin suggests that Radar tell Angela up front about the collection, which includes paintings, sculptures, and even Pez dispensers shaped like black Santas.
After school, Quentin has a snack, has dinner with his parents, and chats online with his friends. Suddenly, for the first time since they were nine, Margo shows up outside his bedroom window.
Margo is wearing black face paint and a black hoodie. She tells Quentin that she needs him to drive her around that night, because she needs eleven things, five of which involve a getaway man. She promises him that she won’t ask him to commit any felonies. At first, Quentin refuses to help. While Margo is trying to convince him, her dad yells at her to get back inside, and she climbs out his window to appease him, but first promises Quentin that she’ll be back in a minute. Quentin decides that he will drive her after all, and gets the keys to his mom’s minivan. When she returns, Margo announces that their first stop is the grocery store, and tells Quentin that tonight will be the best night of his life.
Margo gives Quentin a shopping list for the grocery store. Quentin notes that she has randomly capitalized words in the middle of phrases, which is a signature of Margo’s style. Her shopping list contains a bizarre assortment of items which include three whole catfish and a can of blue spray paint. After the grocery store, they go to Wal-Mart and buy a gadget call The Club that locks a car’s steering wheel into place. Quentin asks Margo to explain why they need The Club, but she dodges the question by complaining about the mundanity of planning for the future. They briefly flirt.