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.
Paper Valentine is the first book by Brenna Yovanoff that I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be my last. The book is written beautifully, with extremely gifted ways of phrasing simple thoughts and feelings. I was not expecting this book to be such an emotional rollercoaster, and will admit upfront that there were two specific passages that brought tears to my eyes. Hannah, our main character, is filled with immense sadness, and this is ever-present throughout the book. Her best friend, Lillian, died of anorexia six months prior, and her death has obviously impacted Hannah in ways even she’s unaware of. It doesn’t help that she’s being “haunted” by Lillian’s ghost; even though she’s there with Hannah she’s not the Lillian that Hannah wants and wishes for, and their interactions were extremely bittersweet and heart wrenching.
I want to applaud the way that Lillian’s disease was handled, right down to Hannah’s guilt over not saying anything or trying to get her friend the help she so desperately needed. While Paper Valentine is a murder mystery, that really wasn’t the main point of this novel; instead it was all about forgiveness and finding yourself and becoming who you want to be, which is something that Lillian desperately struggled with. Hannah’s memories of the ways Lillian would behave, and the way she changed, and the things that she did while in the depths of her disease were just spot-on and perfect. There is nothing shied away from, however, so if eating disorders are a trigger for you, you may want to give this book a pass, although obviously your mileage may vary.
I also want to give major kudos to the romance in this book, which – for me, at least – was exactly what I wanted. On the surface Finny is a troublemaker, a delinquent, a boy who doesn’t do well in school and gets into trouble by merely existing. But his interactions with Hannah were so gentle and solemn, and he was such a perfect match for her – making her realize just how she was really feeling and giving her the courage to do things she otherwise wouldn’t have done – that I rooted for them wholeheartedly from the moment he showed up. Here’s my favorite quote about Finny:
“When I open the door, [Finny] doesn’t say anything about my calling him out of the blue, or how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, or why my hair looks like I styled it with a porcupine.” (69%)
I just really really loved the way Hannah and Finny got each other, how he made her feel safe and happy and cherished, which was something she was sorely lacking post-Lillian. I think everyone wishes for that person you can be completely yourself with, and that’s precisely what Hannah and Finny had with each other.
As for the murder mystery plot, I loved the way it was weaved into the Hannah-Lillian drama, and became the catalyst for Hannah finally standing up for herself and speaking her mind. I also want to give massive props to the author, because I had no idea who the killer was and was very pleasantly surprised when it was revealed. All of the crimes were written in an appropriately creepy way, made even more so by the fact that Hannah’s being haunted by the dead girls’ ghosts.
The one thing that accounts for the 1/2 star off is that some of the things introduced were never properly wrapped up. Why can Hannah see these ghosts? And – this is the one that kind of irritated me in a very minor way – what was up with the dead birds? I would have liked some closure about that, and there was absolutely none. It’s a really tiny thing to be fussed about, but nonetheless was something I definitely noticed.
Paper Valentine is so much more than your typical murder mystery. It’s a book that tackles some pretty dark subjects – anorexia, child abuse, bullying (in a perhaps not-so-obvious way) – in a way that definitely hits you in the stomach. But mostly this is all about Hannah and her emotional journey, which – for me personally – was just really wonderfully done. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to pretty much everyone!
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Quote taken from an uncorrected proof.