Paper Towns is written from the first-person perspective of Quentin, a senior in high school. Except for the Prologue, which is a flashback to when Quentin was nine, Paper Towns is set entirely in the few weeks leading up to and including the main characters’ high school graduation. The novel begins with a quick sketch of Quentin’s normal life: he goes to school, hangs out with his friends, gets picked on, and comes home. But life as Quentin knows it is almost immediately turned on its head.
The book’s Prologue sets the stage for Quentin’s entire mindset about Margo and about their relationship. Although he thinks of himself as having a special bond with her, Quentin idolizes Margo and puts her on a pedestal, and he has been content to worship her from afar for the past nine years. When Margo appears at his window for the first time since the night when they’d found the dead body, Quentin’s relationship with Margo is suddenly reignited. Margo claims that she needs Quentin to drive her physically around Orlando, but in every other sense, Margo is in the driver’s seat throughout their whole expedition. She doesn’t so much ask Quentin as insist to Quentin that he will accompany her. Even though he initially balks, Quentin and Margo both know that Margo has Quentin wrapped around her finger. Margo manipulates Quentin in two main ways. First, she makes him feel important and special because she has chosen him to be her partner in crime. Second, she strings him along throughout the process, only revealing each subsequent part of plan as they go along. Both Quentin and the reader are kept in suspense throughout the whole adventure. Part of the adventure is actually executing Margo’s wild schemes, but part of the adventure is also hanging on to see what Margo will come up with next.
The Prologue also establishes Paper Towns as a mystery novel. In the very first scene of the novel, the main characters come across a dead body, and they have no idea how it got there. Although Quentin and Margo are two normal kids living in a regular suburb, they have also been placed directly into a classic detective story setting. If a corpse can turn up in the middle of a banal subdivision, anything is possible. Discovering Robert Joyner sets the stage for Quentin and Margo to live life inside a mystery story. Even the dead man’s name, Robert Joyner, is a homophone of “joiner,” suggesting the bond that is forged between Quentin and Margo by finding this corpse. Margo immediately takes it upon herself to investigate the crime scene and to figure out what has happened.
On a slightly grimmer note, the Prologue also introduces the possibility of death into the novel. For the most part, the kids in the story lead fairly sheltered and benign suburban lives, but Robert Joyner’s corpse brings out the grisly underbelly of Orlando. Margo’s description of strings breaking inside Robert Joyner is an image that resonates throughout the novel, and the scene informs Margo and Quentin’s coming-of-age.
Margo casts herself in the role of superhero ninja for their adventure, and Quentin readily falls into her vision of the events of the night. She exaggerates the drama of the whole situation and turns simple plans of mischief and revenge into a night of deep mystery and intrigue. Margo knows that she is fulfilling Quentin’s fantasies by appearing at his window. Indeed, she tells him as much, insisting that it will be the best night of his life. Quentin is a biased narrator, and since he idolizes Margo, he portrays the night as a surreal, fantastic adventure. Instead of getting frustrated with Margo, or wondering why she has suddenly chosen to bestow her attention upon Quentin, he relishes being pulled into her scheme.