Paper Towns

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Paper Towns Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Edgy, compelling teen angst mystery.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 22 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 100 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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," plus "f----t" and other 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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11 and 13-year-old Written bystarbox October 29, 2009

A really great teen novel.

In terms of the content, I did not find there to be anywhere near as much language, sexuality, drinking, etc. as the majority of teen novels. That said, the mo... Continue reading
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byMaryLeeCosbie May 24, 2015

Entertaining novel, inappropriate for a tween audience

My twelve-year-old was interested in this book, so I read it before her to make sure it was appropriate for her specifically, and I decided it wasn't. This... Continue reading
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 wil... Continue reading
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... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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?

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