Paper Towns: How Well Can You See?

John Green. Paper Towns. New York City: Dutton Books, 2008.

Paper_Towns_Book.jpg "Margo left often enough that there weren't any Find Margo rallies at school or anything, but we all felt her absence. High school is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship -- nor, contrary to popular belief, an anarchic state. High school is a divine-right monarchy. And when the queen goes on vacation, things change. Specifically, they get worse."

Margo Roth Spiegelman is the coolest girl at Winter Park High School -- beautiful, charismatic, untouchable, and mysteriously missing. After a whirlwind night of wreaking havoc with her neighbor, Quentin Jacobsen, she disappears without a trace. Or does she?

Paper Towns tells Quentin's story of uncovering the mystery of Margo and, in such, uncovering parts of himself that he never knew existed. As he and his eclectic crew of friends embark on a crazy adventure to find Margo Roth Spiegelman, they find a tangled web of clues and seemingly contradicting images of their classmate. The clues don't fit, don't make sense, and suddenly, neither does Margo.

A complicated and heart-warming story of seeing through the images that people project of themselves, Paper Towns explores what it means to grow into an individual. Just as Quentin tries to "discover what Margo was like when she wasn't being Margo," students will be challenged to understand themselves and their peers in a new way. The book captures an essential attribute of adolescence -- how does one define him or herself apart from the people around them? What does it mean to be an individual? Can a person fit into other people's perception of them and still be true to who they are? Or are young people too busy "expecting people not to be themselves" to allow for that individuality to grow?

The memorable cast of characters bring this struggle to life and give voice to the kind of high school experience that everyone wishes they had. Students and teachers alike will love this book for its frank questioning of societal expectations, its colorful writing, and the way that Green uses humor to reach into the depths of identity. By the end of the novel, readers will have experienced an adventure to remember and perhaps understand themselves in a way not soon forgotten.

Recommendations for Teachers

Paper Towns is a novel about our personal perception of others and the way we grow emotionally as we age. Listed below are several activities teachers could utilize to help students explore and interpret the story, characters, and themes. It is also important to discuss opinions of the story and characters as it progresses. Ask your students to challenge and look beyond their initial impressions of every character to help them see how our original perceptions may not always be correct.
  • Omnictionary: Many students today have encountered the website Wikipedia. In Paper Towns, a similar website called Ominictionary is mentioned. Have your students create a page on the Ominictionary website about a setting or character from the novel as well as explore other entries on the website.
  • Character Impressions Letters: After a discussion on the characters, have your students write a letter to you or their classmates about their first impressions of one or more of the characters. Repeat this experience as the book goes on with letters in the middle and closer to the end. After they are done reading the book, have them reread their first impressions and discuss how they have changed. This will help emphasize the importance of Margo's ever-changing appearance in the eyes of the characters searching for her.
  • Character Diaries: Because Paper Towns contains a wide variety of characters, many students will relate very well with some of them, and not at all to the others. Have them chose the character they relate to the most, explain why, and then write a diary entry from the perspective of their character while they were on the road to Agloe. This can also be done with the characters they do not relate to in order to help them understand these characters better. This activity demonstrates their understanding of the characters in Paper Towns, as well as help them relate to the book on a deeper level.
  • Forming a Hypothesis: Before the fact that Margo is alive and in Agloe is revealed, ask the students how they think the book will end. Do they think Margo is alive and hiding from her friends waiting to be found? Does she want to be found at all? Is Quentin correct in thinking that she has committed suicide? Make sure they provide sufficient evidence to support their claims. This can also be turned into a writing assignment in which students would have to provide quotes to add to their evidence.
  • Deleted Scenes: Another way of exploring understanding of characters and themes is to ask students to create a script or write several paragraphs from a scene which may have been deleted from the novel or that follows a path the novel did not explore. For example, what would have happened if Quentin had gone to prom instead of spending the night in the mini mall.
  • "Song of Myself": Spend a class period reading, interpreting, and discussing the Walt Whitman poem referenced in Paper Towns. As they read the book, a deeper understanding of the poem may give them a different interpretation of the events. The poem can be found on Google Books linked at the bottom of this page.

Paper Towns contains several examples of highly sensitive subject matter including underage drinking, sex, and suicide. It may be necessary to send a letter home alerting parents to this fact, or requesting permission. Tackling these subjects in class can be difficult, but short discussions or writing assignments on how each of these things affects the characters could help students relate to the story and to better understand the impact these things have in real life.

About John Green


John Green was born on August 24, 1997 in Indianapolis, Indiana. During his childhood he lived in many places including Michigan, Alabama, Illinois, and Orlando, Florida, the setting for Paper Towns. In 2000, he graduated from Kenyon College with a double major in English and Religious Studies. He has written four novels to date including Looking for Alaska (2005), An Abundance of Katherines (2006), Paper Towns (2008), and a collaborative novel with David Levithan entitled Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010). In addition to these works, Green has also published several short stories, as well as reviews for The New York Times' Book Review, and other writing for National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and Chicago's Public Radio Station WBEZ. His novels have won several awards including the Michael L. Printz award in 2006 for Looking for Alaska, the Edgar Award in 2009, and the Corine Literature Prize in 2010 both for Paper Towns. Many of his novels are being considered for movie adaptations, and most have spent time on the New York Times' bestseller list.

John Green currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife, Sarah, their son, Henry, and his West Highland Terrier, Willy. John currently runs a vlog (video blog) with his brother Hank which was called Brotherhood 2.0 and is now known as Vlogbrothers. He has yet to set a release date for his newest project tentatively titled Everything is Surrounded by Water. More information on John Green can be found on his official website: John Green Books.


The videos below are made by John Green about his book Paper Towns.
  • The first video is John Green reading some of his book Paper Towns.
  • The second video is John Green talking about his new book.
  • The third video is John Green answering questions from Nerdfighters about Paper Towns.
  • The fourth video is some more answers to questions about Paper Towns with special guest Willy (John Green's West Highland Terrier).

Additional Resources

  • Omnictionary: Website referenced in John Green's Paper Towns.
  • John Green's Official Website: The official website of Paper Towns author John Green.
  • Paper Towns Discussion Guide: This link includes question about Paper Towns that can be used for a class discussion about the book as well as some projects and activities that can be done with the book.
  • Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman's famous collection of poems including "Song of Myself", Leaves of Grass, available on Google Books.
  • Teen Book Review: Review on the young adult novel, Paper Towns by John Green.
  • John Green's Twitter: Check for "tweets" from author John Green about his books and any upcoming news.
  • What is a paper town?: Wikipedia article explaining what exactly a paper town is.
  • Agloe, NY: Wikipedia article describing the fictional town Agloe, New York described in Paper Towns.
  • Nerdfighters Website: Website created by John Green and his brother Hank and is "A place where nerds gather and play".
  • Vlogbrothers: A vlog (video blog) created by John and Hank Green.
  • John Green Wikipedia Page: Wikipedia entry about author John Green.
  • School Library Journal: Review written about John Green's Paper Towns.
  • Downtown Orlando: Maps of the Downtown Orlando area which is the setting for Paper Towns.

-- YA! Review by Carly Crookston, Kristen Hayes, and Samantha Phillips