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Quentin’s mom shakes him awake after half an hour of sleep. When he drags himself downstairs, his dad is discussing his recurring anxiety dream about taking a test in Hebrew, which Quentin’s mom tries to interpret. Neither suspects a thing about Quentin’s wild night. When Quentin’s mom drives him to school, Margo’s car isn’t there. Chuck Parson arrives at school with his left eyebrow shaved off to match his missing right one. Quentin tells Ben and Radar that it was his and Margo’s doing, and then the bell rings. Quentin can barely keep his eyes open in class. During lunch in Ben’s car, Quentin relays the entire adventure to Ben. After school, Quentin notices that Margo’s car is missing from her driveway. That night, even though he’s exhausted, Quentin can’t help but hope that Margo she’ll come to his window again.
Margo is still missing the following day, and in her absence, the high school falls into a state of near anarchy. Chuck Parson and his friends run over younger students’ bikes, and someone wearing a ski mask shoots squirt guns filled with urine at some freshmen. Quentin sends an email to Jase saying that he will release the naked photograph to the whole school unless Jase pays back the kids whose bikes were destroyed, in addition to putting an end to the bullying. That night, when Quentin and Ben are playing a video game called Resurrection, Jase and Chuck come over to Quentin’s house. Jase apologizes for what he did, and Ben punches Chuck in the stomach. Chuck barely flinches, and doesn’t fight back at the advice of Jase. Jase tells Quentin that he respects Quentin’s guts. Ben’s hand hurts from Chuck’s abs, but Quentin is pleased with himself for stemming the tide of anarchy.
On Saturday, the following morning, Margo’s parents, Quentin’s parents, and Detective Otis Warren are all around Quentin’s dining room table when Quentin wakes up. Put on the spot, Quentin lies and says that he saw Margo Wednesday night only briefly, when she came to his window around midnight, but that he hasn’t seen her since. Margo’s parents seem more annoyed at Margo than worried. She’s run away before, and they say they’ve had enough of it. They talk about changing the locks so that she can’t get back in even if she does try to return. The detective reminds them all that Margo usually leaves clues when she runs away, even if the clues are somewhat ambiguous, and that Margo usually returns.
Detective Warren asks to talk to Quentin privately, and Quentin tells him the entire story of his night with Margo. The detective explains to Quentin that Margo’s pattern of behavior isn’t unusual. He describes Margo as a helium balloon, straining against the string of her parents. Something happens to cut the string, says the detective, and the balloon floats away, but there are lots of lost balloons filling the sky. Quentin doesn’t admit to not entirely understanding this metaphor, but the detective assures Quentin that Margo will probably return.
When Margo’s parents and Detective Warren leave, Quentin’s family agrees that Margo’s family dynamic is not healthy. Quentin suggests to his parents that Margo live with them when she comes back. His parents say that she would be welcome, but that that situation would pose its own challenges. Radar comes over and he, Ben, and Quentin play Resurrection while Quentin fills them in on what happened with Detective Warren. Quentin looks out the window and notices something he’s never seen before on Margo’s window shade: a poster of Woody Guthrie holding a guitar painted with the words, “this machine kills fascists.” Radar and Ben think that Margo must have left the clue for Quentin, because the poster is facing out directly towards Quentin’s room, and no one but Quentin is able to see Margo’s window.
Quentin, Ben, and Radar wait until Detective Warren and Margo’s parents have left, and then they go over to Margo’s house. Ruthie, Margo’s little sister, is at home with tMyrna Mountweazel, the family’s dog. Quentin asks Ruthie to let them in without telling her parents, and Ruthie charges them five dollars for the favor. When Quentin, Ben, and Radar go to Margo’s room, they’re surprised to discover that Margo has an enormous collection of vinyl records. Quentin finds a Billy Bragg album that has the same photograph of Woody Guthrie on the back as the poster on Margo’s window shade. The song title “Walt Whitman’s Niece” has been circled. Radar has been fiddling on Margo’s computer, and he can tell that she’s been editing Omnictionary a lot, but since she cleared her browsing history, he doesn’t know what pages she was editing.
Quentin finds Margo’s copy of Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, a Penguin Classics version of the first edition of Leaves of Grass. He takes it home and discovers that Margo has highlighted several lines and stanzas. He spends the weekend analyzing the highlighted passages, but comes to no conclusions.
After their whirlwind adventure, Quentin becomes even more obsessed with Margo. At first, Quentin is just disappointed that Margo doesn’t come to school the next day because he wants to see if her world has changed as much as his has. He wonders if Margo will openly acknowledge the bond that their adventure forged between them, or if will she pretend that the night never happened and return to life as usual. But Quentin’s fascination evolves when it turns out that Margo has gone missing. Suddenly, Margo hasn’t just concocted a fantastic, secret adventure for herself and Quentin that will remain mysterious to the rest of the world. Now, Margo has cast herself at the center of a mystery: the mystery of Margo’s disappearance. Without even consciously realizing it, Quentin shifts the center of his entire universe to Margo. He’s always idolized and worshipped Margo from a distance. As a result of their nighttime adventure, however, Margo’s place at the center of Quentin’s life becomes renewed and reinforced.
Margo is the center of Quentin’s world, but she is also a force that keeps the social hierarchy of high school in equilibrium. With Margo gone, no one keeps the bullies in check, and anarchy begins to take over. But as a result of Margo plucking him out of the crowd, and as a result of his friends, Quentin has grown self-confident enough to stem the tide of these bullies. Ironically, Margo’s absence is both a catalyst and a hindrance for Quentin’s personal growth: he has gained self-confidence, but he lacks what is necessary to see beyond his idolization of Margo.
Not only is Quentin obsessed with Margo, he is convinced that Margo wants him to find her. He thinks that Margo has left clues specifically for him, since he is the only one with both the ability to see the clues and the obsessive nature to hunt them down and decipher them. Margo is manipulating Quentin, teasing him toward her tantalizingly unreachable world, and Quentin takes the bait. Everything else in his life, including his friends, family, and finishing senior year, becomes subordinate to the primary goal of seeking Margo.
Quentin’s relationship with Detective Warren is indicative of way Quentin sees his own role in the process of finding Margo. Quentin willingly tells the detective everything about his adventure with Margo. This mostly unprompted sharing of information is, at first, somewhat surprising. In front of his parents and Margo’s parents, Quentin is unwilling to say what happened, either to protect Margo or avoid punishment. But in front of the detective, Quentin comes clean. Quentin thinks that the investigation will go much better if he doesn’t withhold information, and he wants to be involved in the search. Detective Warren doesn’t seem to be nearly as committed a detective as Quentin is. Since the detective is not under the spell of Margo Roth Spiegelman as Quentin is, he treats her as though she is any other teenager who has gone missing. Detective Warren uses metaphors to try and put Margo’s case into perspective for Quentin. However, even though the detective tells Quentin that Quentin can’t fix Margo’s life for her, Quentin remains obsessed.
Quentin, Ben, and Radar all spend a lot of time in various forms of virtual spaces throughout the novel. Virtual realities provide them with a shared safe space, a place where they can interact freely with each other but don’t necessarily have to face consequences. Though they transition seamlessly between technology and the physical world, these virtual spaces are their own forms of paper towns. In other words, they are locations that don’t take up any physical space but have the capacity for infinite technological and emotional space. Radar also escapes into Omnictionary, a space where he can build and explore a wealth of information. Radar’s parents may have the world’s largest collection of black Santas, but Radar has a comparably large collection of knowledge in the world at his fingertips. Quentin, Ben, and Radar also frequently play a video game called Resurrection, in which they can die as many times as they want, but can continue to play forever. Death doesn’t have consequences in a video game, and there’s no real sense of urgency. Video games and virtual spaces provide an escape from the characters’ real problems and emotions.