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In the novel Paper Towns by John Green, the author brings us into the first person perspective of Quentin Jacobsen, a high school senior in Florida who is nicknamed Q by his friends. Q is considered by most standards to be a nerd, a fact justified by his crew of geek friends. Yet Q has fostered a secret since his childhood, a suppressed, obsessive admiration of his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman. Margo is the popular, daring, and beautiful girl in school whom every guy dreams about and every girl envies.
Q, the lanky, intelligent, childhood friend of Margo, has grown apart from her in adolescence and is rarely viewed as even a blip on her radar. Q is content with his life, but he knows that something is missing; he lives in a middle class household with his two parents and will be attending Duke University in the upcoming fall, but his mundane high school experience is one he seeks to escape.
After a surprise encounter with Margo in the middle of the night, Q is reluctantly pushed beyond his limits, taken out of his comfort zone, and thrust into Margo’s world of adventure.
In the days after joining Margo on her spree of revengeful pranks, Q finds that Margo has mysteriously disappeared. Running away from home is not uncommon for Margo, but Q can tell that this absence is much more serious. With his interest in Margo elevated after their adventure, Q allocates the responsibility of finding Margo to himself.
Using his intelligence and problem-solving skills, Q cleverly discovers some clues that Margo has left behind. Besides being able to think carefully to track down Margo, Q’s efforts are buttressed by his intensely passionate attraction towards her. His admiration runs deeper than conventional physical attraction though; he takes joy in every aspect of Margo’s personality, every nuance and idiosyncrasy of her behavior, from her unusual capitalization of words to her unique and dismal perspective on life. Once Q is set on completing an objective, he will not let the goal out of his sight. Q’s intelligence, emotional motivation, and inexorable determination are all contributing factors to his success in completing his task; tracking down Margo.
Q’s quest is not an easy one, for he must not only try to understand the complicated mind of Margo, but also apply her hints to geographical locations, for she could very well be anywhere in the country. Q is not alone in his journey though, for he is able to recruit his two friends Radar and Ben, as well as Margo’s mistrusted friend Lacey.
The foursome are able to each contribute to the search for Margo, but none of them can match the obsessive desire that possesses Q, causing him to dedicate every waking moment to unearthing clues about Margo’s whereabouts. From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass poem to some maps left in an abandoned building, Q scours every piece of evidence he can get his hands on. After suffering through fruitless attempts to make any headway, Q hits a wall. He loses hope and considers how pathetic his effort is, but he soon convinces himself that only he has the ability to find Margo since he has become so familiar with her thought process. Q refuses to let hardships stand in the way of finding his crush.
At the end of the novel, Q persuades his friends to skip their own graduation in order to find Margo before a specific departure time that she secretly revealed. His dedication pays off, for he is able to find Margo, but she is not acting like the same person he adored so passionately. After a failed persuasive conversation, it is decided that Margo and Q will go their separate ways. The novel closes with a shared kiss between them and an ambiguous allusion to the distance that will keep them apart. By the end of his journey, Q has learned to face rejection. “We play the broken strings of our instruments one last time” (page 305) is one of Q’s thoughts on the last page of the novel.
He thinks this in reference to his last kiss with Margo; it is a thought that shows the pain he is suffering through to see her go. He has come to understand that work ethic, passion, and unhindered determination are not always enough to make our dreams come true. This message is one that Q is reluctant to believe, but it is an inevitable truth of life that he must accept. Q and Margo play the broken strings of their instruments in order to feel one last emotional connection, but the fact that it is their “last time” (page 305) means that Q knows he must move on. This message applies to all people, not just Life will throw rocks at us, pop our tires, crush our dreams, and steal our beloved ones, but we cannot let these difficulties prevent us from continuing to live happily.
Although the novel ends with Q saying goodbye to Margo, it is implied that he will move on, leaving Margo in the past and experiencing life in the fullest way possible. It is a lesson for all people to value; resilience is the key to happiness. Difficulties are inevitable, but they are not death sentences and we cannot let them act as such. Q committed an exorbitant amount of time towards tracking down Margo, only to be disappointed by her steadfast desire to leave behind the world she knows. If all people learn to pick themselves up after disappointment, to ward off the emptiness brought on by despair, then enjoying life will no longer be a troublesome task.
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