Paper Valentine

by Brenna Yovanoff
ages: 13+
First sentence: “My sister, Ariel, is sprawled upside down on the couch, pointing with the TV remote.”
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Hannah’s friend Lillian slowly killed herself through anorexia, finally dying about six months ago. And ever since then, she’s been haunting Hannah, hanging out, commenting on her life, not really allowing Hannah to let go and move on.

But things are changing this summer: Hannah’s become interested in Finny Boone, one of the social un-elite, whom she’s known forever but never really paid attention to. And young girls are being murdered, which means the whole town is on edge. Somehow, all three of those things — Finny, Lillian, and the killer — are connected, and maybe by figuring out how, Hannah will be able to deal with her grief and move on.

On the surface, this is a hodgepodge of things: a murder mystery, a ghost story, a Teen Issue story, a grief and loss story. But, for some reasons, in Yovanoff’s hands, most of those elements work really well together. I say most, because I had the most issues with the serial killer part of the story. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but while I didn’t really see the ending coming, it wasn’t a satisfying conclusion to the whole mystery. That, and the bad guy monologues. I hate it when they monologue. It’s so… pat. Like the information should have been out there already, and we didn’t really need to hear it all from the bad guy’s mouth. Except in this case, it wasn’t.

That, and I found the characters incredibly difficult to connect to. Hannah was mopey, Lillian pushed Hannah around, and her other “friends” weren’t so nice (my favorite scene? When Hannah confronted the Clique and told them off. You go girl.) Finney was the Strong Silent Guy, and Ariel was the Cute Younger Sister. While I found the book to be intense, it was in spite of the characters and unlike Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall or Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, I didn’t buy Hannah’s growth arc.

Still, there were some pretty creepy moments, and I have to give Yovanoff credit for that. I just wish it worked better as a whole.

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