‘Paper towns’ are fictitious or virtual towns inserted into maps by mapmakers, in case they wish to prove other mapmakers to be simply copying theirs. In other words, they exist only on paper. While looking at the lit town at night from a distance, the self-dubbed ‘paper girl’ Margo laments to Quentin. She remarks that the suburban place they live in is a paper town, with paper houses, streets and people, who do not seem to care about anything that truly matters. It only looks beautiful from a distance, but ugly up close.
Margo leads Quentin on a wild ‘mission’ night out, getting his assistance to pull elaborate but really not too harmful pranks. Together, they get the kick of exacting some poetic vengeance upon ‘friends’ who let her down. She tells Quentin as they call it a night, that the way he felt should be the way he feels for his whole life, and that everything he wants is way out there, beyond his tiny comfort zone. In a way, yes, though surely, the zest of life can be applied on more meaningful matters? Life is too short to overly wear out with sheer excitement!
Soon, Margo disappears… Not as a missing person, but as an intentional runaway. She leaves a string of clues for anyone who might want to find her. Quentin, who had a crush on her for the longest time decides to track her down. The ‘paper boy’ is thus led further out of his ‘paper life’ into the larger world, as he breaks rules by cutting class, for his first road trip with his best friends, stumbling into misadventures of self-discovery and mutual-bonding. All in time before their graduation, it became a coming of age pilgrimage into the unknown.
Finally finding Margo, Quentin is just as shocked as she is surprised that he came all the way to an actual yet surreal paper town. His crush was crushed, for it turns out that she did not nurse any special feelings for him. Yet, it was liberating, as Margo did lead him to do what he once felt impossible, to step way out of his comfort zone, to explore life itself, to even risk the heartbreak of not finding reciprocation from the ‘love of his life’. Just as Margo was on her personal quest to chart her new course of life, Quentin was re-charting his.
Margo claims that she has absolutely no idea what she would do, but is excited to find out. She did not so much run away, but escaped into a larger life, beyond fitting in a stifling mold. The idea was that ‘you have to get lost before you find yourself’. Trips aside, you just need to realise you are lost within! Perhaps Quentin and Margo realised they could not really love each other if they did not really knew themselves? Their existential quests for purpose thus truly begin now. And they are filled with hope. Amazing adventures loom ahead, and miracles can be made. Life can be more deeply noticed and lived, before it is too late.