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.