Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
My rating: 3/5 Stars
Publisher: Razorbill (January 2014)
Length: 304 pgs
Genre: YA Paranormal/Mystery Fiction
Format: Hardcover, checked out from my local library
Goodreads Synopsis: The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.
For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.
With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
I literally just finished this book, moments ago, and it’s left me in a flurry of thoughts. On the one hand, I really loved the eerie atmosphere that Yovanoff is able to create through her prose, yet on the other hand her plot seemed a bit inconsistent and the final reveal was anticlimactic. And then there’s that cover (it’s gorgeous!)
Let me first address the prose and Yovanoff’s atmospheric talent, because these aspects really make the book. Her writing isn’t lyrical or overly saturated with metaphors. Rather her prose is on the simpler and concise side, which actually lends to her being able to create a darkly beautiful and melancholic atmosphere: “I’m thinking that my best friend killed herself so slow it was almost like a magic trick, and other people let her do it.” There’s a certain kind of bluntness in the prose that creates the dark atmosphere for the reader, and I loved the atmospheric touches that the murder-mystery story is set against: it’s an unbearably hot summer, birds are mysteriously dying and left to fester in the heat, there’s a park with gritty train tracks that children play amongst, etc.
Yet despite the darkly gorgeous setting, Paper Valentine seems to juggle too many elements in its plot with not enough explanation and resolution. This book seems to fall in a liminal area between being a mystery and a paranormal thriller, with touches of horror and contemporary. I found that I actually didn’t mind Hannah, the protagonist, as she was quiet and insightful despite being younger, dealing with her own internal demons. Yet there are many aspects of Hannah’s life that are never quite explained, such as why she can see ghosts (Is she a necromancer? Is she insane?) She’s constantly haunted by her dead best friend (who is ironically not dead from the loose murderer but from other reasons altogether) yet readers are never told how this is possible, or if anyone else sees ghosts as well. While speaking to the dead is a huge plot device in the book, it contrasts with a very human string of murders that have nothing to do with the paranormal. There are also contemporary issues that are brought up (like eating disorders, as Hannah’s friend Lillian dies from anorexia), but then aside from brief mentions about the disease, the topic is never really addressed, nor is Lillian’s death ever explicitly talked about despite her presence as a ghost throughout the entire book. Finally the book dovetails into really solely focusing on discovering who the murderer is, which at first is rather anti-climactic and then becomes plain nonsensical, as the identity of the killer feels so random.
There’s also the matter of a slight romance, insta-love, high school popularity drama, and a brief mention of abandonment issues by Hannah’s dad leaving. Despite the fact that this book tried to take on too many plot elements at once, and the ending proved to be a bit disappointing to me, I enjoyed Hannah as a protagonist and really enjoyed the eerie and atmospheric world that Paper Valentine creates and think that Yovanoff could really thrive in the horror genre.
What I Enjoyed:
- Setting and tone were amazing!
- Hannah as a protagonist
- The quirky secondary characters of Ariel and Pinky
- Hannah’s creative outlet as seamstress/designer
- The introduction of eating disorders and the serious consequences of them
What I Didn’t Care For:
- The reveal of the killer felt anti-climactic and random
- The many issues that were brought up but never addressed
- It crossed over too many genres unsatisfactorily
Overall: I enjoyed reading it and it was an atmospheric horror-mystery that I’m glad I read, but I probably won’t reread it and I think a lot more could have been done to flesh out the details. I was impressed by Yovanoff’s scene setting though and will definitely be trying out more of her novels!
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You can read my review here.
That’s an incredible cover!
I know! I saw it and knew I had to read it!
This looked so good, but I’m torn by your review. The romance and the big reveal are so important! I suppose I’ll stick it on my might read list. Thanks for the review. I’ve been curious about this book.
It has an interesting storyline and setting, but the relationships were pretty disappointing, as was the climax of the mystery. I think it’s still worth reading for a lighter read, but there’s a lot of other books out there I’d read first.
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