On Friday evening, Quentin drives to Collier Farms. The land is swampy and overgrown. Though he is full of hope after finding the subdivision’s brochure in the strip mall, he finds no sign that Margo has been there.
Quentin is trapped in a cycle, visiting pseudovisions and leaving disappointed. He is not ready to give up on Margo, but his search now seems hopeless.
Driving to the last pseudovision on his list, Logan Pines, Quentin gets a call from Ben. Radar’s parents have left town — a black Santa collector in Pittsburgh has died suddenly, and they are flying to Pennsylvania to buy his Santas — and Radar is planning a party in their absence. Quentin declines to attend. Ben tells him that they are not asking him to abandon the search for Margo, and that they only want one evening of his time before graduation later that week. It bothers Quentin that Ben never seems to care about Margo unless searching for her involves an interesting adventure, but he thinks of Radar’s lecture about accepting people, and agrees to come to the party as soon as he searches Logan Pines.
Ben and Quentin are more compassionate with each other here than they have been at other points, and they are also better at communicating their thoughts. Ben is understanding of Quentin’s need to search for Margo, and he makes his request gently, letting Quentin know that he values this party because it is one of the rituals that will make finishing high school easier. Though he still does not see things from Ben’s point of view, Quentin accepts that Ben has different priorities than him and agrees to be the friend Ben needs him to be.
There is nothing in Logan Pines to suggest anyone has been there. Quentin finds the concrete foundation of a house that was never built. He cannot understand why Margo would have wanted him to see these places. He has now exhausted his list of pseudovisions in Central Florida, but knows nothing more than when he began.
Quentin has been confident in his theory that “paper towns” referred to pseudovisions, but he is forced to accept that his hypothesis was wrong. Just when the truth of a situation seems completely obvious, he realizes he has misunderstood once again.
Quentin drives back to Jefferson Park. He arrives at Radar’s house to find Radar putting away the nicest of the black Santas to keep them from breaking during the party. Quentin is thinking that the Santas are more beautiful and interesting than Radar gives them credit for, when Ben appears in the bedroom. He tells them that Lacey has just kissed him, and that he’s afraid he isn’t very good at kissing. Quentin advises him to use his tongue sparingly and avoid biting. Lacey comes into the room at that inopportune moment, and begins affectionately teasing the boys.
Quentin and his friends often act more serious and adult than their classmates, but in this moment they are just teenagers. They worry about kissing and breaking their parents’ things, and they joke as though they don’t have big adult problems to think about. They have paused the rapid process of growing up and are using this opportunity to enjoy being teenagers while they still can.
The party is relaxed, with little drinking and lots of storytelling. Ben, Radar, and Quentin reaffirm their commitment to being naked under their robes at graduation, and some of their friends agree to join them. Quentin thinks that moments like this are what he likes most about his friend. The party is bittersweet and leaves Quentin feeling acutely both the happiness and sadness of the transition that awaits him. When he gets home that night, he finds his mother dozing on the couch. She wakes up to hug him and tells him that she really likes being his mom.
Because Quentin has skipped so many of the normal end-of-high-school rituals, like prom and parties before this one, he has not had the opportunity to reflect on the transition he is about to make, or really even acknowledge that this transition is going to happen. Here, he appreciates the people who have shared his childhood with him and begins to remember the positive parts of an experience he tends to think of as being unhappy.
In bed, Quentin pages through “Song of Myself.” He looks at the map pinned to his wall, and thinks of how fruitless it is to attempt to understand Margo through a map. The enormous amount of space represented in the map only reminds him of how small Margo is, and how difficult it will be to find her when he has the entire world to search. He gets out of bed and pulls the map off the wall, along with the thumbtacks he used to mark locations of interest. Lying down again, he stares at the pattern of small holes in the wall left by the thumbtacks. The pattern reminds him of the one he saw on the wall of the strip mall. He realizes suddenly that the thing Margo hung up must have been a map with plotted points.
Quentin’s breakthrough comes at precisely the moment when he acknowledges, through the symbolic gesture of ripping down his map, that Margo is not someone who can be understood through logic and puzzles. That realization, in some ways, produces his new idea. This illustrates how a person can become trapped in their tired, outdated ways of thinking about other people, and how seeing someone clearly often requires the total abandonment of preexisting ideas about them.