“Paper Towns” is a fun little coming-of-age story that is lighthearted, witty, focused, and takes you right back to your own halcyon teenage days.  But don’t put too much weight on it; it’s just paper.

A “Paper Town” is the name for the little towns that are invented by mapmakers in order to catch somebody illegally copying their product.  Make up a name, stick it somewhere in upstate New York, and see if it re-appears anywhere.

Margo (Cara Delevingne) is the cute girl across the street who moved in when she was seven years old, and soon she and Quentin (Nat Wolff) were childhood buddies, riding their bikes everywhere and just enjoying being the same age in the same neighborhood.  Quentin remembers those day with great fondness, but as Margo has gotten older, things have changed.  First, it was her spirit of adventure---she was always ready to sneak off in the middle of the night and go somewhere with a lock on the gate.  Quentin was by nature cautious, but occasionally she could talk him into stretching his comfort zone with her.

The years pass, and they kind of naturally develop other friends.  Margo is riding with the wild crowd as a teenager; Quentin has two best buddies, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith).  They’re band nerds who hang out in the music practice room and talk about girls, but they’re mostly socially awkward.  Radar actually has a girlfriend, Angela (Jaz Sinclair),but he treats her with kid gloves because he’s afraid of losing her.  Ben has a crush on Lacey (Halston Sage), and solemnly swears that the one time she talked to him they “made a connection,” which the other boys, of course, make fun of, but their lively banter is never really mean-spirited.

Quentin still has a crush on Margo, but she seems pretty unapproachable, having a boyfriend and all, so Quentin just concentrates on making good grades, getting accepted into Duke, and planning to go to medical school and become an oncologist.  He knows he’ll have to work hard and not do something stupid.  Then one night Margo crawls into his bedroom window and invites him to go do something stupid with her.  And Quentin just can’t help but go with her for a night of mischief and pranks.

But in spite of the risk, or maybe because of it, Quentin is having the time of his life.  He’s outside his comfort zone, and it feels exhilarating.  But the next day Margo disappears, and both her parents and the police detective are questioning him, because he seemed to be the last one to be with her before her disappearance.

Now Quentin really is distracted, and is determined to find Margo, sleuthing the clues that she’s left behind in her room (after Quentin bribes the little sister to let him in to investigate).  Quentin decides that Margo has gone to a “paper town” in upstate New York, which is a long way from Orlando, but Quentin is so determined to go find her that he recruits not only his two best buds, Ben and Radar, but Lacey, as Margo’s best friend, insists on coming along, also, as does Angela, who’s more down-to-earth than Radar ever figured out.

So now we have a coming-of-age road trip, where they have a vague destination, but really, it’s about being together along the way, and just enjoying each other’s company, in a situation virtually devoid of adult influence.  Sure, they’ll all soon go to the Senior Prom and graduate, but right now, they’re experiencing a little bit of freedom for the first time, and it’s exciting.

No, true love doesn’t necessarily conquer all.  But personal loyalty counts for something. And so does having a few perspective-changing experiences that helps you to figure out not only who everybody else is, but  also who you are.

Questions for Discussion: 

1)                   Ever spend a night with buddies doing pranks?  How did that turn out?

2)                  Ever go on a road trip where you realized later that the real point was not reaching the destination, but enjoying the journey?

3)                  What do you remember with fondness about high school, and what would you rather forget?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas