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Paper Towns

Edgy, compelling teen angst mystery.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

What parents need to know

Educational value

This is a sophisticated book that makes references to Moby Dick and Leaves of Grass. The publisher's reading guide will help readers probe the messages about identity (e.g. "Paper Towns has two different covers. What does this symbolize to you? What does each version say about Margo? Do you think either one is 'correct'?") See our "Families Can Talk About" section for other ideas.

Positive messages

Beyond the story of clueless high school boys trying to figure out girls, love, and life while dealing with a crisis, there is a deeper message for high school readers to ponder about identity and how well we ever really know anyone else.

Positive role models

The main characters don't always make good choices (one night, Q. helps perform a series of pranks involving breaking and entering, graffiti, and vandalism), but, in the end, readers will find Q. and his friends easy to root for. In the end, Q. gains a much more complicated idea about what it means to really know someone.


When Q. and Margo were kids, they found a man who shot himself, described somewhat graphically. Later, when Margo disappears, Q. begins to believe she may have killed herself.


Kissing; a scene of teens about to have sex; and references to masturbation, penises and scrota (including discussion of size of both), STDs, virginity, sex, and oral sex.


Frequent use of "s--t" and "f--k," "faggot," as well as plenty of minor swearing.


Many products and brands mentioned, including fast food, candy and snack foods, OTC medicines, energy and soft drinks, energy bars, chain stores, cars, theme parks, toys. 

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teens smoke, drink, and get very drunk.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that as with Green's other books, this one contains some edgy material: teens will find plenty of salty teen language and sexual references here, though nothing graphic. Two kids come across the dead body of a man who killed himself, and later Q. wonders if Margo has committed suicide. Also, the very appealing main characters sneak out at night and conduct a series of pranks, involving vandalism and misdemeanors, for which there are no consequences other than a fond and amusing memory. But the characters -- and the writing -- are very sophisticated. Readers will find references to Moby Dick, Leaves of Grass -- and be asked to think critically about identity and how well we ever really know anyone.

What's the story?

Quentin lives next door to Margo, the amazing, vibrant, wickedly sophisticated teen goddess of his town, with whom he has been in love since they were in elementary school. But in high school she has mostly ignored him. A few weeks before graduation, she shows up at his window, leading him on a night-long series of payback pranks, after which she disappears. Worried that she may have committed suicide, Quentin obsessively pursues clues he thinks she has left him, involving Woody Guthrie, Walt Whitman, and nonexistent towns that are either failed developments or mapmakers' copyright traps.

Is it any good?


The key to author John Green's success is his books' vivid and engaging characters, both major and secondary, who are trying to figure it all out. With his third book, Green seems to be developing a specialty -- thoughtful, talky stories about smart but clueless high school boys trying to figure out girls, love, and life while dealing with a crisis and a road trip. Margo is AWOL for much of the book, and Quentin is obsessively trying to figure out what happened to her -- so it's his supportive friends who provide the reader with the humor and pure joie de vivre that makes the book fun as well as thoughtful. Quentin's two best friends are characters in both meanings of the word: Both are band geeks; Ben is obsessed with prom, thrilled to have a date, and likes to think of himself as retro-cool (he refers to girls as "honeybunnies," and Quentin is unable to convince him that it's not cool, it's just dorky). Radar is a fanatical editor of a Wikipedia-like site, and his parents have the world's second-largest collection of black Santas. Together with Quentin, they're a pretty sweet group of teens, and readers will enjoy their journey -- and conversations.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about edgy coming-of-age stories. Does the language or other mature content in this book seem realistic? Is there anything that is -- or should be -- off limits when it comes to books marketed to teens?

  • John Green's characters often go on road trips. What other road trip books or movies can you think of? Why are road trips so often a part of coming-of-age stories?

Book details

Author:John Green
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dutton Children's Books
Publication date:October 13, 2008
Number of pages:320

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Teen, 17 years old Written byrom12:12 June 25, 2011

An older teen's perspective

I am seventeen, and just read this book. I would like to say that, contrary to what some of these reviews say, it is NOT for young kids. I feel sad for the kids who said they read this at twelve, and wonder what their parents are thinking! I think it is a compelling story, good for light reading for older teens--I would hardly want myself of two years ago reading it. Green is a fantastic writer and his characters are funny and fun, but I wish he had realized that the profanity and sexual references in his books do not contribute to, and often hinder, his stories and messages.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written bynerdfighter May 21, 2013

It's an Excellent Book for Teenagers

John Green is, arguably, the best writer for young adults there is. This is yet another wonderful book of his with an honest, appealing voice that teenagers will love. I read this when I was 11, and I loved it. (I wouldn't recommend that unless you are quite mature) At the time, Paper Towns was the only book I read that didn't go to ludicrous lengths to make it "understandable" for kids. Don't get me wrong, I love Roald Dahl books, and I enjoy a few hours of Chasing Vermeer like any other kid. But Paper Towns did not talk down to me or assume that I was too naive to appreciate the sophistry of it all. It speaks of the fragility of human dreams and the importance of imagining for the sake of imagining the future. The characters are real and well developed, and while it contains mild profanity and a few sexual references, it is a thought provoking read. And, to answer the top-rated review on this page, I believe that parents should not be blamed for the books their kids read. We teenagers live in the same world you do. No, we don't have to worry about gas or the mortgage, about wars and the legality of arms, but we are well aware of what is going on. Reading such books does not ruin us, it does not expose us or make us vulnerable. They say that ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is bliss, in a safe haven built for children, and this world is not a fantastical Neverland. It is not entirely dark, either, but ignorance is the reason young children unknowingly climb into unknown cars, the reason girls accept drinks in exchange for a strangers friendly smile. I understand if you are trying to protect your child, and as well you should, but when they are 12 or 13, should they not decide for themselves? Sexual references and foul language does not aid the plot line, but it would be unrealistic to completely exclude them from an honest account of a teenager. There is nothing erotic or arousing in his material, and it is a minor part of the story.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Adult Written byStepha July 5, 2010

Wash out your Mouth with Soap!

OH MAN! Bad language all over the place
What other families should know
Too much swearing