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Quentin calls Ben at noon the next day, and Ben is very hung over. Ben won’t talk to Quentin about Margo, which Quentin thinks is incredibly selfish. Quentin is annoyed at Ben and Radar for not being as invested in the search as he is. He then calls Radar, who’s also hung over, but who agrees to come over and discuss the Margo developments. Quentin tells Radar about the travel guides, and Radar shows Quentin a computer program that can plan an itinerary for any combination of destinations. Radar mentions to Quentin that he’s been searching every day online for Margo, and that he has an alert set if her username on Omnictionary becomes active again. Quentin feels sheepish that Radar has been doing all of this, as Quentin has neglected his friendships since the search for Margo began. Radar tells Quentin to made amends with Ben, and Quentin calls Ben over to play video games.
Quentin pores over “Song of Myself,” only pausing to eat turkey burgers with his parents. As his parents psychoanalyze Chuck Parson and his bullying problems, Quentin realizes that he has been idolizing and idealizing Margo, when in fact she is just a human girl.
On Tuesday after school, Quentin, Ben, Lacey, and Radar all go to the minimall, and on the way, they speculate about Margo. Each of them has a different theory. Inside the minimall, a group of people wearing masks appears. One of them turns out to be Gus, the SunTrust security guard, whom Lacey knows. Gus and his two friends called Ace and the Carpenter say that they enjoy urban exploring, or wandering around abandoned buildings to observe and take pictures. Margo used to join them, but instead of poking around, they say she would sit down write in her notebook. When Lacey starts to get upset, the Carpenter calls her a bitch and tells her to calm down. Ben punches the Carpenter in Lacey’s defense, but Quentin and Radar calm him down. Gus, Ace, and the Carpenter leave.
Ben and Lacey notice the pinholes in the wall and speculate what Margo might have tacked up there. Lacey says she remembers Margo’s notebook, and regrets never asking her about it. Quentin sees a pile of subdivision brochures that have been stacked into a house of cards, but doesn’t tell his friends. Instead, he writes down the names of the subdivisions so that he can check them out alone.
On Friday night, Quentin takes the minivan and drives out to Collier Farms, one of the pseudovisions whose brochure Quentin found in the minimall, but he doesn’t find anything. He drives to another pseudovision, but there’s nothing there, either. Ben calls Quentin and tells him that Radar is having a party because his parents are suddenly going to be out of town that weekend. They are going to Pittsburgh to buy the world’s second-largest collection of black Santas, since the man who held this collection had an aneurysm. At first, Quentin is reluctant to attend, but gives in. When Quentin arrives, they start putting the most valuable black Santas away so they are not destroyed. Ben is anxious because he and Lacey kissed for the first time, and he doesn’t think he’s a good kisser.
At the party, Quentin and his friends reiterate their promise to go to graduation naked except for their graduation robes. Quentin listens to the party chatter but stays mostly quiet. When he goes home, he gets frustrated at all the maps he has pinned on the wall, so he tears them out. As he stares at the pattern of holes in the wall, he realizes that Margo must have had a map pinned up with points plotted by thumbtacks, as that would explain the pattern of pinholes they had found in the wall at the minimall.
Quentin and Radar drive back to the minimall. They dig through the box of maps and brochures until they find a map with pinholes in it. They find a 1972 map of the U.S. by the Esso Company that has pinholes, but is pretty badly ripped, making it difficult to determine the exact locations that Margo had pinned. There are holes in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. One of the rips is in somewhere near Woodstock in New York State. That night, back at home, Quentin reads the Whitman poem again and instant messages with Lacey, Radar, and Ben about Margo.
Though they’re all taking finals, Quentin and his friends are still preoccupied with Margo. Ben and Lacey have a theory that Margo will return for graduation because it would take her exactly that long to drive to all the points plotted on the map and back again. Radar tells the group, unrelatedly, that he built a computer program that allows someone to enter a word on Omnictionary and read the first sentences of a hundred articles about that topic on one page. On the last day of school, Quentin cleans out his locker and finds himself overcome with emotion about leaving high school. He starts jogging away from school and feels liberated, noting that Margo must have felt the same when she left. Ben and Radar drive up beside him and pick him up.
Quentin tries to figure out where Margo is, going over and over the points on the map and the Whitman poem, but can’t put it together. Friday morning is graduation morning. Quentin’s parents give him a car for graduation, and he is ecstatic until he sees that it’s a minivan. He soon realizes that even though the car might be dorky, he’s excited to have his own car.
Quentin instant messages his friends about his new car. Radar asks if he can put a cooler in the back containing the leftover beer from his party. Quentin starts browsing Omnictionary using Radar’s new computer program to try and figure out some of the geographic clues. He discovers an entry for Agloe, New York, a fake town created by the Esso company. Paper towns, Quentin learns, are also another term for copyright traps, or fictitious towns that mapmakers would put on maps to figure out if somebody were plagiarizing them. On the discussion page for Agloe, an anonymous user has posted, “fyi, whoever Edits this––the Population of agloe Will actually be One until may 29th at Noon.” The comment, undoubtedly left by Margo, who capitalizes her words at random, had been left fifteen days ago. The day is May twenty-eighth, and Quentin realizes he has just under twenty-four hours to make it to Agloe before Margo leaves.
Quentin calls Radar and Ben, who convince him to swing by school and pick them and the beer up. Quentin floors it to school in his new car and breathlessly tells his parents that he’s going to find Margo in New York instead of walk at graduation. Lacey, Ben, Radar, and Quentin all hop in Quentin’s minivan, and they take off for Agloe.
After the events of the after-prom party, and after spending most of the night in the minimall, Quentin becomes increasingly obsessed with finding Margo. For Quentin, solving this mystery is tied to becoming an adulthood. Quentin goes through the motions to finish his final exams and prepare himself for graduation, but his heart clearly isn’t in it. Instead, he is completely preoccupied with the whereabouts of Margo Roth Spiegelman, and with the fantasy of heroically rescuing her. Quentin’s image of triumphantly finishing high school was never to be prom king, or to walk in his graduation robes. Now, he has placed all sense of success and failure in his ability to figure out the mystery and to save Margo.
But as Quentin becomes more and more obsessed, he also loses sight of what his friends want, which causes him to have a fight with Ben. Quentin is so sucked into the vortex of Margo that he forgets that other people’s universes don’t revolve around this one person. Quentin gets furious at Ben when he doesn’t want to talk on and on about Margo, since, to Quentin, this subject is always the highest priority. For Quentin’s friends, Margo is a pretense to allow them to move forward with their own lives. Ben is much more interested in his developing relationship with Lacey than in Margo’s whereabouts. Margo does help all of them gain self-confidence, but while this confidence leads Quentin directly back into the search for Margo, Margo’s absence is the catalyst that helps Ben move forward past his own insecurities. Although Ben had thought that he wanted to prove his social superiority and to prove his masculinity by taking a “honeybunny” to prom, he actually realizes that his unexpected and growing relationship with Lacey is both far more exciting and far scarier than he’d anticipated. Margo’s mystery brought Ben and Lacey together, but their relationship has now moved beyond Margo.
Though it’s only inferred through the dialogue, Quentin observes that his single-minded obsession has caused him to have blinders on. When Radar tells Quentin that he’s being selfish for expecting his friends to be as concerned as he is about Margo, Quentin realizes that he has been domineering throughout his quest to find Margo. Since he is so focused on solving the mystery, he hasn’t realized that to his friends, he might have come across as monomaniacal or uncaring. In order for his friends to be sympathetic with his concerns, he has to let go of himself sometimes and do what’s best for everyone.
The timing of Quentin’s epiphany about Margo’s “paper towns” clue is highly symbolic. He realizes that he has been interpreting the clue incorrectly the whole time on the morning of his graduation. High school graduation is a definitive marker of crossing from childhood into adulthood. In the same way, Quentin’s parents’ gift of the minivan also signifies this transition. Quentin now owns a vehicle and can move on his own at all times, rather than take a backseat to others’ scheduling constraints. It’s no coincidence that Quentin realizes that same morning that he has been so focused on one interpretation of Margo’s clue that he hasn’t even made room for other interpretations.
Quentin only deciphers the clue correctly because of his friends. Radar’s special computer program for Omnictionary is what enables Quentin to figure out the other definition of “paper towns” and to find Margo’s message within the site. Indeed, unlike Margo, who mostly operates alone and only lets people into her world after she’s plotted everything in advance, Quentin collaborates. Quentin works with Ben and Radar in a similar way that Harry Potter works with Ron and Hermione. Each of the friends has a particular strength that helps the protagonist become stronger than he could have been on his own.
Quentin’s friends immediately insist that they will join Quentin in his cross-country quest to get to Margo before she leaves Agloe. Ultimately, Quentin’s friends don’t come with him on the road trip because they are equally as fixated on the whereabouts of Margo. More importantly, they are loyal to Quentin and to each other. The road trip becomes one last adventure, their final, grand gesture of leaving high school. Walking across a stage in graduation robes has little symbolic meaning to them at this point. However, taking control of their lives and going on a reckless adventure marks a much more symbolic transition into adulthood than “Pomp and Circumstance” could.
Quentin and Margo’s contrasting feelings about their home are evident in their respective journeys to Agloe. When Quentin lets his parents know that he’s okay, and that he’ll be back, Quentin confirms that he is not running away, and that he does not want to abandon his past. Even though they’re taking a journey away from Central Florida, the group of friends will not lose their connection to home. By contrast, Margo uses her own solo road trip to Agloe as a means of dissolving her connection to home. No matter how much Margo has influenced Quentin in getting him to abandon normalcy and routine, Quentin will always return to his values and stay true to his character.