The protagonist Quentin Jackson has long since loved his incredibly adventurous childhood friend Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. They, however, have drifted apart somewhat.
Most of the book’s setting is in Suburban Orlando, and the main characters are all high school seniors, only a few weeks from graduating.
Margo who now is a popular girl who hasn’t interacted with Quentin since they were nine years old, shows up at his window at night.
She asks him to become her partner in crime for her eleven-part plan to take revenge on her friends who had wronged her. The two pairs then break into Margo’s old Friends’ houses and cars rather creatively, wreaking absolute havoc on those friends.
Margo and Quentin’s night of mischief, pranks, and fun end with them breaking into the sea world.
The next day, after Margo and Quentin’s adventure, Margo suddenly disappears.
She had left a bunch of clues for Quentin, and he was completely determined to put those clues together and find out where she had gone off to.
One clue on which Quentin is fixated is Margo’s copy of the book Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, on which she had highlighted several specific passages.
Quentin gets his best friends, Ben and Radar, to help him with finding Margo. Besides them, Margo’s friend Lacey joins them as well.
There was also a detective in search of Margo, but he was completely useless and not hopeful that she will be found.
By following her vague clues, Quentin and his friends are eventually led to an old abandoned minimal, in which they find out that Margo had spent some time. From her mini hideout, they find maps and other things that suggest that she had been out of her route there. However, it is difficult to tell exactly where she was planning to go.
Quentin then looks deeper into Margo’s obsession with pseudo visions or, as she likes, to call them ‘Paper Towns’ which are basically suburban developments that had been abandoned before they were completely finished. Quentin takes short trips to all the nearby pseudo visions that can be found in Central Florida to make sure that she wasn’t camping out in one of them, but he doesn’t find her.
Over the course of his search for Margo, Quentin who hangs out with the band geeks, is able to somewhat restore the chaos that is their high school hierarchy, and he has also earned some respect among the popular crowd.
Quentin however, is more obsessed with finding where Margo is than his friends, as Margo was always the centre of Quentin’s mind, while Radar and Ben are more concerned about things such as school, their girlfriends, and the oncoming prom.
Quentin, who has absolutely no interest in going to prom, was planning to stay that night at Margo’s mini hideout, and he falls asleep there. He is then woken up to become his friend’s designated driver to the after-prom party. At that party, Quentin silently observes the gathering, as he is the only sober attendee left, which gives him a new perspective about the more imminent end of high school.
Quentin continues on with his search, going through the motions of his last days in high school and the final exams with his mind constantly thinking of Margo.
On the day of their graduation, Quentin discovers a clue left by Margo on a website run by Radar that she will be in the Paper town of Agloe, New York and that she will stay there until May the 29th at noon. This gives them only 24 hours to get there so Quentin, Radar, Ben, and Lacey skip the graduation ceremony to race towards Algoe in the minivan that was gifted to Quentin by his parents for graduation.
They go on their own epic road trip to New York, which Quentin documents hour by hour. The road trip could only be described as frenzied, and they even find themselves in the middle of a minor accident. This quickly becomes a bonding experience for the four of them. When they arrive in Algoe, they finally find Margo, but she acts cold and indifferent towards them. Lacey, Ben, and Radar get rather angry and leave. Quentin, however, stays and talks to Margo, who actually opens up to him.
Margo tells him her perspective and why she feels obliged to cut all ties with Orlando and her past. She also invites Quentin to stay in New York with her.
However, Quentin denies and refuses to stay in Margo’s literal yet symbolic paper town, and Margo refuses to go back to Orlando where her emotional chains are located.
As they promise to stay in touch, they have a moment of connection, then they go their own separate ways.