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On Monday morning, Lacey Pemberton, much to Quentin and Ben’s astonishment, approaches Quentin and begins to ask him questions about Margo. Lacey tells them that contrary to Margo’s belief, Lacey did not know that Jase and Becca had been sleeping together. Lacey says that she even broke up with her boyfriend because her boyfriend knew about Jase and Becca and didn’t inform her. Ben’s ears perk up when Lacey mentions that her now ex-boyfriend is no longer her prom date. Lacey suspects that Margo may be in New York, because Margo mentioned something about New York being the only place in America that appealed to her. Quentin leaves so that Ben can have the chance to ask Lacey to the prom. Word has gotten out that Quentin arranged for Jase to pay back the kids whose bikes were destroyed, and people thank Quentin for it.
At lunch, Ben tells Lacey about Margo’s record collection, which surprises Lacey because Margo never mentioned this. Lacey says that she’ll ask her cousin in New York to post flyers in record stores on the off chance that Margo visits one. Ben and Lacey start talking to each other about prom details, because, much to the surprise of Quentin, she Lacey accepted Ben’s invitation to prom.
Quentin keeps looking through Leaves of Grass throughout the school day, but still can’t deduce anything related to Margo’s whereabouts. After Ben and Radar come back from band practice, and Ben has gloated about scoring a prom date with Lacey, they return to the highlighted passages of Margo’s book. Radar points out that the lines “Unscrew the locks from their doors! / Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” is the only one that is highlighted in a different color than the rest. Ben suggests that the line isn’t a metaphor at all, but literal instructions, and that they should unscrew the lock on Margo’s door.
After school, Quentin, Ben, and Radar are again let in to Margo’s house by Ruthie. They unscrew Margo’s bedroom door, but don’t discover anything, and leave disappointed. Back at Quentin’s house, while they play video games, Ben suggests that Quentin fly to New York, find Margo, and ask her to the prom. Quentin says that he can’t because he has a French quiz the next day. Later, he recalls one of his mother’s patients, a nine-year-old whose father died and who drew circles on paper at all times of the day in order to cope through routine and repetition. Quentin begins to wonder if the comfort he finds in routine is taking him away from finding Margo.
Quentin tells his parents about the Woody Guthrie poster and the Walt Whitman book. Quentin’s parents tell him that Margo has to take care of herself and that he should focus on his own life, but Quentin can’t help thinking about her. Ben calls to chat about Lacey’s prom shoes. This makes Quentin feel bored, but then glum, because even though he doesn’t want to go to prom, he does love the idea of finding Margo in time for prom. Quentin suddenly has the thought that since Margo’s clues were intended for him, the door in the clues must be his own door. He unscrews his bedroom door and finds a slip of paper with Margo’s handwriting on it that reads “8328 bartlesville Avenue,” an address that is about thirty-four miles away. Quentin calls Ben and Radar, and they agree to play sick and skip school the next day so that they can scout the location.
In the morning, Quentin makes himself throw up so that he can convince his mom that he’s sick. Ben and Radar come over, and they all drive out to the address, which turns out to be a abandoned minimall in an abandoned subdivision, or, as Quentin’s mom calls it, a “pseudovision.” Quentin thinks to himself that the mall reeks with the smell of death, and is more panicked and fearful than he has ever been in his life of what he might find. Ben suggests that they call the police, but Radar and Quentin agree that they must go into the minimall themselves first.
As they circle the building, Quentin, Ben, and Radar discover a rotting raccoon corpse, the source of the mall’s stench of death. Quentin feels relieved for a split second, but is still worried that Margo might have killed herself. They finally manage to bust through a piece of particleboard covering a broken window, and they find themselves in a room with shelves and old papers. There’s a waist-high hole in one wall with the words “TROLL HOLE” spray-painted above it. They go through it and find another empty room with another hole in the wall. The boys enter the second hole and discover a room that looks like an old souvenir shop. Everything is covered in thick dust. The final hole leads to an abandoned office, in which every desk has a calendar dated February 1986. On the wall, somebody has spray-painted “YOU WILL GO TO THE PAPER TOWNS AND YOU WILL NEVER COME BACK.” Quentin thinks the handwriting is unmistakably Margo’s. Unsettled, Quentin, Ben, and Radar leave.
Quentin uses his obsession with Margo and his idealization of her to analyze himself and modify his own behavior, even if he’s not doing so consciously. When Jase and Chuck were orchestrating the bullying at school, Quentin was able to use the self-confidence he developed during his adventure with Margo to stand up to them, and he used Margo-esque blackmailing strategies to get them to do what he wanted. Now, Quentin uses the idea of finding Margo as a way to let go of routines that have acted as his security blanket. Taking these risks doesn’t lead Quentin to make decisions that are characteristically prudent. For example, lying about being sick and skipping school to go on a wild goose chase to an address on a tiny slip of paper isn’t an objectively sensible choice. However, Quentin has been sensible his whole life. He obsessively notes the time of day down to the precise second, and is comfortable going through the same, safe motions of everyday life. Skipping school would have once been unthinkable to Quentin, but he believes that not following Margo’s trail will have consequences that far outweigh getting in trouble for playing hooky. He wants to be able to take risks and try new things in his life, even if he’s unsure where they will lead, and Margo is the catalyst for this.
The adventure on which Margo leads Quentin in Part One makes Quentin feel deeply connected to Margo. As he grows increasingly obsessed with figuring out where Margo has gone, he comes to believe that Margo has left clues for him specifically and that her disappearance is further forging their special connection. Margo tells
Quentin that she has picked him for her revenge spree, insisting that they are in it together and that they share a special bond throughout the night that goes beyond Margo simply needing a chauffeur. Indeed, Quentin has felt bonded to Margo since they found the corpse when they were nine. Margo’s mystery becomes Quentin’s as well.
For Quentin, Margo’s disappearance gives him a sense of purpose, since it allows him to take the role of both detective and hero. Instead of staying on the periphery and watching other people get involved, he asserts himself, taking action and getting wrapped up in Margo’s drama. Quentin also becomes much more obsessed with Margo’s whereabouts than his friends are. Although his friends are definitely concerned about Margo, and although they willingly go down rabbit holes to decipher clues, they also want to enjoy their senior year of high school. Searching for Margo gives Ben, Radar, and Lacey a reason to pursue other objectives. For Ben, the unintentional outcome of Margo’s disappearance is that it gives him a reason to get close to Lacey, something that never seemed possible given their high school’s social hierarchy. For Lacey, searching for Margo gives her the confidence to reject some of her old friends and be her true self. For Radar, searching for Margo gives him an excuse to dive into Omnictionary and immerse himself in that prized virtual reality.
When Quentin, Ben, and Radar get to the minimall and their fear sets in, Quentin switches from narrating in the past tense to narrating in the present tense. The use of present tense here puts the reader more immediately into the action as it unfolds, and Quentin’s feelings become tangible. The shift in tense as the boys exit the car and enter the abandoned minimall also indicates the shift between Quentin’s comfortable, routine lifestyle and the potential danger that he might encounter as he goes deeper and deeper into the mystery of Margo’s whereabouts. The scene in the minimall makes Quentin realizes that Margo might actually be gone for good