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.