By Brenna Yovanoff
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Mystery
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’m going about reading the books I have by Yovanoff in a backwards, strange way, since I bought The Replacements and The Space Between based on a review and cover respectively, but haven’t read either yet, and bought this because there was a psycho killer in it and had to dive in. Ah, priorities.
Paper Valentine was a much different book than I thought, one that left me alone with my thoughts enough times that I couldn’t decide sometimes if I should be bored or if I was deliberately being allowed to stew. My mind filled in all sorts of twisty plot potential – and since I’m going to let you stew about it, this is going to be a relatively short review (for me, ha!).
Calm, quiet and stoic Hannah is handling the routine of the sweltering summer the same as she always has, even though it’s been six devastating months since the death of her best friend Lillian. Always the leader of their pack of friends, headstrong and seemingly fearless, Lillian died of anorexia, something everyone seemed a little afraid or unaware of how to rescue her from. Her bony ghost haunts Hannah, popping up all over the house offering commentary and criticism (reminding me of Esmerelda from Bewitched, to be honest).
There’s already a feeling of expectation looming over the town, with record heat and dead birds dropping from the sky, so when the first girl’s body was found, the story really began. Parents started making curfews and kids traveled in groups and for Hannah, life distilled to Lillian, the mystery of the killer and her relationship with Finny, a bad boy from school.
Not to drop too many pop culture references at once, but I was in a very M. Night Shyamalan/The Sixth Sense/The X-Files/Silence of the Lambs sort of mood when I read this, because I kept thinking I saw dead people, conspiracies and baskets of lotion everywhere which is why I don’t even know what to say that is or isn’t a spoiler. I was guessing who was and wasn’t the killer or was and wasn’t a ghost on every other page. Yovanoff did have me fooled about a lot of things though!
Despite the kind of gruesome plot, the story had a kind of languid, bubble-in-time quality to it. There were girls being murdered, trips to Dairy Queen, scary séances, walking to band camp and stealing glimpses of crime scene pictures and holding hands with a guy missing a pinky. It’s far from a perfect analogy (especially since it’s been ages since I watched the movie or read the short story), but it felt a little bit like Stand by Me – a perfectly horrific event surrounded by perfectly normal things in an ageless setting.
I really, really liked Hannah, and “really” is a word I’m trying not to write anymore, so you know I did. She doesn’t say a lot, but her narrative thoughts became raw and honest as she started dealing with the things she’d put away for six months. If it wasn’t always all about the mystery all of the time, if it slowed as other parts of the story became important, the story still worked because while I wanted to know who the killer was, having Hannah get there in her own way made it worth the side trips. Finny didn’t play as big a part in the story as I’d initially hoped. He was almost too colorful and I wished Yovanoff would have dialed it back a little. He’d been a bit of a bully to Hannah when they were much younger and now they fascinate each other, definitely a little Beauty and the Beast-ish. There isn’t a giant romance but they’re good for each other and what they’re going through. He’s got that missing pinky thing going for him too.
I was pretty surprised by the ending, although if I hadn’t been looking at four or five other suspects, who knows if I would have been. For a YA book, the details of the murders of the girls are very creepy (it’s not explicitly gruesome, but very weird) and the paranormal elements are just spooky at certain points. I’m not usually afraid to read scary books at night, but bits of this might make me a little uneasy. If you enjoy the sort of mystery that takes its time to unravel as the characters develop, I think you’ll like this.
My Rating: B