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Ben and Radar drop Quentin off at home, they return to school for band practice. Quentin gets worked up about what happened that morning and calls Detective Warren to tell him all about the clues, including the abandoned mall. Detective Warren tells Quentin to stop looking for Margo because Margo is an adult who can take care of herself. He warns Quentin that in searching for Margo, Quentin could lose himself. Quentin searches the Internet for more information about paper towns, and finds that a paper town is another name for a pseudovision. This, along with the morbid Walt Whitman poem lines, makes Quentin surer that Margo has killed herself. Radar and Ben both tell Quentin not to worry so much, and that Margo is selfish for wanting this attention in their last weeks of high school.
Quentin decides that he will explore a couple of pseudovisions nearby for clues, so after school, he borrows Ben’s car and drives to two of them. In the second one, he sees an oak tree and remembers the dead man that he and Margo had found slumped against one when they were kids. Quentin pictures Margo lying there, dead, but he doesn’t find anything, and instead starts to cry because he misses her.
At school on Friday, Quentin tells his friends that he found nothing at the pseudovisions, and Lacey starts to cry when she brings up the theory that Margo has committed suicide. Quentin shows his English teacher, Dr. Holden, Margo’s copy of Leaves of Grass, and asks for her help analyzing what Margo highlighted. Dr. Holden tells him that the poem is about valuing life, not ending it, and that it’s important to read the poem as a whole to understand that. This advice does not make Quentin feel any better. The next morning, Quentin gets annoyed that Ben and Radar are both absorbed in getting ready for prom, which is that night. Quentin lies to his parents and tells them that he needs the minivan to pick up a tux because he’s decided to go to prom. Instead, he drives out to more pseudovisions to look for Margo. He doesn’t find anything.
Quentin drives back to the abandoned minimall, and sees that the hole in the particleboard that they had made is taped up. He also immediately realizes that he hadn’t needed to break into the building after all, because he, Radar, and Ben had pulled on the doors when the doors actually opened inwards. Quentin returns to the abandoned office with a flashlight, and he realizes that one of the desk’s calendars had been switched from February 1986 to June 1986. In that desk’s drawer, Quentin finds a bottle of nail polish that’s the same shade Margo had used on the night of their adventure. Quentin sees a tiny smear of blue spray paint on the bottle, so he knows it’s hers, and realizes that she must have stayed in the building sometime after their adventure.
Quentin explores the space more thoroughly. He finds nine thumbtack holes on the wall, an empty box of nutrition bars, and a blanket that smells like Margo, and imagines her spending time there. Quentin calls his parents and tells them that he’s staying with Ben after prom, but, despite the rats, he settles down to camp out in the Troll Hole. Without Internet or TV to distract him, Quentin reads “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass, and although he’s gone through it over and over, he begins to understand it this time. As he thinks about what the grass in the poem could symbolize, Quentin declares out loud that he will find something in this minimall. He looks around some more and does find something: a travel guide published in 1998, long after the mall had been abandoned. Once he sees the travel guide, he discovers several more above the bookshelves, all published after 1986, and concludes that Margo had brought them there.
At 3:18 am, Quentin wakes up to a phone call from Ben, who is drunk at an after-prom party and needs a designated driver. Quentin leaves the minimall and arrives at Becca’s house just before four, where Ben is in the middle of setting a record doing a keg stand. Apparently, Ben is really good at doing keg stands, although Quentin knows that Ben has never gotten drunk before. Everyone at the party is drunk and sentimental, and even Chuck Parson says that he has respect for Quentin. Quentin is bored and annoyed, and he wanders down to the basement, where he sees Becca and Jase making out on her bed. Jase calls Becca Margo by accident, which makes Becca furious.
Quentin goes to the bathroom, where he discovers Lacey sitting in the bathtub. Lacey is angry because Becca told everyone at the party that Lacey has an STD. Quentin and Lacey start talking about Margo, and Lacey asks if Quentin can take her to the abandoned minimall. Lacey confesses that she thinks Margo is dead. At five in the morning, Quentin and Lacey go back upstairs. Ben drunkenly tells Lacey that he loves her and makes Radar and Quentin swear that they will be naked under their robes at graduation. Ben has super-glued a sword made out of beer cans to his hands, and even though they dismantle the sword, one can is left glued to his hand. Quentin drives Lacey and Ben home.
After visiting the minimall, Quentin’s thoughts go into a dark place, as he fears that she might have committed suicide. Quentin’s speculation about Margo is often, however, more indicative of his own moods than of any particular piece of evidence. As Dr. Holden points out, one can read “Song of Myself” as a joyous, celebratory poem, but Quentin reads it as a poem about the end of life and suicide. When Quentin despairs over whether or not he’ll ever see Margo again, he is inclined to believe the worst about her whereabouts. Once Quentin begins to develop this theory of suicide, his confirmation bias makes it all too easy to believe that every new clue points towards this theory.
The nail polish on the desk is a vivid image of Margo’s recent presence in this space, just as vivid and huge as the spray-painted letter Ms she scrawled on the houses of her victims. To Quentin, the nail polish means that Margo was definitely in the space after the night of their adventure, meaning that he is on the right track and, hopefully, that she isn’t dead. The nail polish is also soothing for Quentin, since it serves as a sort of sign from beyond of Margo’s continued presence at the center of his world, even though she isn’t physically there. In many ways, Quentin is much more comfortable with the idea of Margo than with Margo herself.
For both Quentin and Ben, prom night represents the culmination of a certain kind of wish fulfillment. Quentin has at some level worshipped Margo since he was nine years old, and over the past several weeks, he has constructed his entire around figuring out where she is. On prom night, Quentin wants to have a special experience with the girl who he cares the most about at the school. In order to do that, he enters the world of Margo Roth Spiegelman, stepping into her shoes by spending the night at her secret haven. To become close to Margo, Quentin enters the space where he feels she was vulnerable, and where she immersed herself in her own world. Obsessively tracking Margo to the point of spending the night where she camped out might seem creepy, but Quentin is just as obsessed with his role in solving the mystery of Margo as he is with the idea of Margo herself. Quentin stays in the minimall to try and figure out what Margo was thinking and feeling so that he can figure out what her next move would have been. Quentin wants to be just like Margo not so that he can become Margo, but so that he can become her white knight and rescue her from herself.
Since Ben is a band geek and has been bullied throughout high school, prom is an important night for him because he wants to prove that he can be socially important . He wants to show that one doesn’t have to be a Jase or a Chuck to be powerful and desirable. Ben’s prom night ends up surpassing his wildest dreams. Not only does he go to prom with Lacey, one of the most popular girls in school, but he also ends up as master of the keg stand, besting the others and setting new records of debauchery.
However, for both Quentin and Ben, their fantasies prove to be hollow. Quentin doesn’t really get any closer to Margo through the experience, and Ben is so drunk that he barely remembers anything the next day. Like Don Quixote, who sees a monster where there is only a windmill, Ben sees a sword where there is only a string of beer cans, and plays into the hands of superficial popularity.
Yet in many ways, prom night actually does signify a culmination of Quentin’s and Ben’s high school careers, though in very different ways than they might have initially predicted. Ben unintentionally yanks Quentin away from his desired night alone with the idea of Margo. Although Quentin is initially angry that Ben and the partygoers have derailed his plan, Quentin eventually realizes that his friends need him, and that spending his life obsessing solely over Margo would mean that he would be missing out on his own experiences and his own life. Ben had always seen prom as the promised land of popularity. The actually important takeaways from prom, however, are the friends that Ben had the whole time: Quentin and Lacey. Ben’s new, budding, real relationship with Lacey that began as a relationship forged out of convenience has deepened into something much more solid.