Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

March 4, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★★★½

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffPaper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Published: January 1st 2013 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback, 305 pages
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Source: Publisher
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4.5 Stars

Hannah's best friend, Lillian, starved herself to death six months ago, and Hannah's been haunted by her ever since.

But now Lillian's ghost has an urgent task for Hannah - someone is killing girls in their suburban neighbourhood, and the victims want justice. Drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets, Hannah slowly pieces the clues together, starting with the child-like paper valentines the killer leaves on each body. But her investigations are bringing her into the Valentine Killer's orbit.

How long before he strikes again?

It’s no secret that I have loved Brenna’s previous books, and it’s taken me ages, but I’ve finally read Paper Valentine. This is a gorgeous, haunting novel about a series of murders that occur in a small town, where young girls are suddenly cooped up inside their houses and everyone is suspicious of everyone else.

Hanna’s best friend recently died (she starved herself to death), and although everyone around seems to have moved on, Hannah can’t quite bring herself to. She’s constantly talking, filling the silences with inane chatter because the alliterative is to think about Lilian. Except that Lilian isn’t really gone – no one else knows that her ghost is haunting Hannah, and is still very present in her life. And when teenaged girls begin to get brutally murdered by someone who leaves paper valentine hearts on their bodies and decorates them with toys, both Hannah and Lilian are (somewhat morbidly) interested in the cases.

Yovanoff has always been able to bring her setting and characters to life brilliantly, and this book is no exception. It’s easy to imagine how stifling the heat-wave is, how suspicion and danger have smothered the whole town, and how everyone is so disapproving of Hannah not bouncing back to ‘normal’. Everything is vivid and well-crafted. However, her family is fairly understanding, and her relationship with her younger sister is one of my favourite things about this book, because at least Hannah has one person in her life who doesn’t just want Hannah to get better, but understands that she needs to grief and process things in her own time.

The dynamic between Hannah and (the ghost of) Lilian is very interesting. They don’t talk about her being dead, but obviously Hannah has been affected by her best friend’s death, and keeps thinking that a) she should have done something more to help her friend, and b) has genuine trouble understanding the nature of Lilian’s mental illness. My emotional investment in the story was high for this reason, because behind, in between, and around the murder mystery, Paper Valentine is about two best friends, one of whom is dead.

I loved the slow burning, awkward relationship between Hannah and Finnegan (Finny). It added a wonderful dimension to the story, because Hannah’s this straight-A, always polite, all-round Good Kid, and Finny steal things from petrol stations, and it’s hinted that he was involved in some bad stuff before he was sent to live with his aunt. He’s not a traditional YA Bad Boy – he’s misunderstood and people just judge him because of his size, his background, and his upbringing.

The actual murder mystery in Paper Valentine is chilling, it’s quite scary what happens to these young girls. I didn’t see the ending coming, I had absolutely no inkling of who the murderer was until it was revealed. I think, in hindsight, Yovanoff planted all the clues and a sufficiently engaged reader would have been able to figure it out, but I personally fell for all the misdirections!

Paper Valentine is everything I love about Brenna’s books. It’s a masterfully crafted blend of several genres, it’s dark and poetic, and has amazing relationships between the characters. If you love her other books, Paper Valentine is not to be missed, and if you haven’t read one of her books yet, then this book is a perfect introduction.

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