Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Published: January 2013
Genre: YA, mystery, paranormal
POV: 1st person
Format: Advanced Reader's Copy, paperback
Source: Unsolicited from Publisher
"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."
From the first chapter, it was easy to notice: Yovanoff's writing has a lovely yet strange flow / ring to it. At times, her word choice for certain descriptions was unexpectedly odd yet fitting as the words evoked the underlying emotion and meaning. Yovanoff gives the narrator, Hannah, a voice is decidedly "Hannah," unique to her personality and utterly captivating. I was worried that Hannah's budding relationship with Finny would detract from the mystery at hand, but it instead allowed the story and Hannah's character to grow a bit stronger. Hannah's relationships – familial, friendship, and romantic – all became intriguing plot points.
PAPER VALENTINE may meander along at a languid pace, but this allows the new string of murders to become all the more chilling and unsettling. With each new discovery, the tension grows until it is like a rubber band on the verge of snapping – but it never grows into too much. It's a soft yet unsettling eeriness that lingers in the background, perfectly mixed in with the surprising amount of more lighthearted moments. Also, while this story is a murder mystery, PAPER VALENTINE is also a ghost story centering around friendship. Hannah's best friend, Lillian, died six months ago, but Lillian's still hanging around as a ghost, pushing Hannah to dig deeper into the killings. These two bring out the best and worst in each other, and it was nice to see how they both evolved throughout the story. PAPER VALENTINE has a couple flaws, but is nonetheless an unexpected pleasant surprise that delivers in more ways than one.
Highlights: Hannah's POV was similataneously expected and unexpected. On the one hand, she's what I expected from a YA novel heroine. On the other hand, her voice is very distinct and I enjoyed her peculiar descriptions and flashbacks. I like that Yovanoff didn't settle with only telling a murder mystery, but she instead built a community and inhabited it with imperfect, realistic characters that capture the reader's attention. I enjoyed the emphasis on family and sisterhood in this story. The Valentine Killer surprised me, because I was simultaneously incorrect and correct regarding the identity of the killer.
Lowlights: Slightly predictable. The middle suffered a bit due to the slower pacing. I'm not a fan of the (sort of a spoiler - highlight to read) villain-confesses-all-before-trying-to-murder-the-hero(ine) ending, and that's unfortunately used here. It felt like a lot was happening in this story, which isn't necessarily bad, but it seemed like the story got off track a few times.