Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, published in 2013
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 not so sure what I just finished reading. A spooky tale of ghosts and hauntings? A contemporary look into the effects of anorexia and peer pressure? A rebellious exploration of good girls loving bad boys? Or a classic mystery with the small town girl trying to solve a rash string of murders? Because this book was alllll that in 304 pages and switched tones every dozen or so pages like the author just couldn’t decide herself what genre she was aiming for. Let me break this down for you so you can make your own opinions.
The rebellious exploration angle of the novel was perhaps my least favourite of the novel because it was so under-developed. The book features Hannah Wagnor, that stereotypical girl who hangs on the side of every popular group not saying much because she’s really nice and doesn’t want to disagree with anyone. Yovanoff gives her a nice spin by giving her a flare for creativity: Hannah designs her own clothes. Hannah loves bright colours, the unpredictable… But she herself is kind of anything but. Throughout the book she never voices her opinion and hangs out with Angelie, a girl who dictates everything Hannah should say and do. So not completely stereotypical, but still quite close to the “just a nice girl” cliche. At the beginning of the book, we are also introduced to Finny Boone. Now, you really know something about the romance aspect of the book when the love interest is described for the VERY FIRST TIME like this:
[…] I almost run straight into Finnegan Boone. He’s paying more attention than I am and steps back before we actually touch. I freeze with my hand on Ariel’s backpack and we stand there looking at each other. I can’t quite breathe. He is all shoulders. (p. 33)
Predictably, Hannah and Finny fall for each other. I mean, slight props to the author because no, the word love is never used. But Hannah is *intense* about him. In a weird way? I think back to Edward and Bella weird, almost. When Finny and Hannah are together, they never really talk (I swear, they must exchange a total of twenty lines of dialogue the whole book) but she claims the silence is “comfortable.” There are so many passages where they just stare at each other. Things like “we stand there looking at each other” or “he just gazes at me” or “I look at him, not knowing what to say.” Goes on, and on, and on. As a reader, it’s uncomfortable. I can’t ship something that … literally is not there? When he kisses her for the first time, it’s after exchanging maybe two sentences. And after that kiss, she is *hooked.* And of course, I have not brought up the “bad boy” aspect of it all: Finny is one of the town delinquents. Now, don’t get me wrong for a second. You cannot judge a book by its cover (and considering how much I’ve learned about Finny in this book, I kind of need to judge the cover?) and wearing baggy clothes and bleaching your hair and needing to go to summer school because you failed all your regular classes doesn’t mean you’re a terrible, dangerous person. (AKA this is Finny.) BUT Yovanoff introduces Finny first by his physical appearance (he’s hot), then by detailing a scene where he steals a lighter from a store. Finny never explains this action, our heroine Hannah never questions it, and *I* never accept their romance as anything that will endure. But that’s me.
Would this book survive as a contemp tale exploring coming-of-age issues such as peer pressure and anorexia? Perhaps if they were explored better. As I explained before, Hannah is the nice girl who does what others say. She exists in a popular crowd now led by Angelie who bosses her around. The novel doesn’t give a lot of time to Hannah’s friendship with Angelie, or the other two members of the crowd (A-something and Carmen). I wish they were more present, because Carmen was actually a nice person who helped define Hannah’s character, and apart from Finny, Hannah really hung out with no one else? There is her sister, Ariel, but there’s the age gap. As to the anorexia, this is where Hannah’s best friend comes in. Lillian died six months ago after … I think her heart gave out? I’m assuming … because she ate so little. I’m troubled by the narrative Yovanoff gives us with Lillian’s character. First, as readers we learn little about how she died, how people reacted directly to her death, or how she (wait for it) becomes a ghost that haunts Hannah to this day. These might be more preferential from me, if someone dies from anorexia in a book, and then this becomes a plot point, I want to know: what is your message to the readers? Will you teach them about the effects of anorexia, show them how it affects the person/ones around them? Also, how do you tie the paranormal into the normal? As readers, we only see Lillian as a “recovered anorexic.” She chats with Hannah like she has been cured, as though she can see “sick Lillian” only from a distance. What prompted this change? Going to the afterlife? And if she’s “recovered,” why is she a ghost? Clearly, I’m left with a lot of questions about Lillian’s character. She does not add anything to the plot (as in, if she was removed, nothing would have changed). So why even have her there? Just QUESTIONS. I hate having so many unanswered questions.
This review’s got a little bit to go because next I need to talk about the mystery angle of the book. As stated in the summary, someone is killing young girls in Hannah’s town. Let me put this out there right away: I was so unsatisfied with the whodunit. So. Unsatisfied. It’s not even just a case of “oh, I didn’t suspect that person.” It’s also a case of, “Rationally, this person could not have done it.” The girls murdered are around 13-14 years old. Their heads are bashed in. I’ve taken psychology classes on the mentality of criminals (not that it makes me any kind of expert) but it really takes a special kind of person to kill girls that young, with such deliberate actions. Someone who is truly detached from the world around them. Someone who has been building up to this for years (I’m sure you’ve heard of the killing animals, then people thing). And just … the killer… We don’t get that portrayal. The killer more or less said, “One day I burned down a shed and then I wanted to move on to people.” SO HE DID. Apart from being dissatisfied with the whodunit, I didn’t feel the pacing you usually do in mysteries. After the first murder, Hannah was somewhat interested but not motivated to investigate. Then the second happened and she decided, alright, I’ll look into it. But her investigation was sloooooow paced, so much so that the whole mystery element is really back-burner. Truth be told, the whodunit kinda fell into her lap.
But okay. Don’t fret. I did like one thing about this book! (If you made it this far. Did you make it this far?) The more paranormal, spooky aspect of the book gave me enough life to finish the book. I don’t want to say too much on this one because it WILL ruin things, but Yovanoff throws in some elements tied to the murders that made me like, YES! Please, why was this element not more prevalent?? If the spook factor had been center-stage, this book would easily have been a four crown for me. Let’s just say Lillith is not alone…
Sadly, I would not recommend this book. It felt a little too all over the place for me (not in the writing. The writing connected, but the tone didn’t). But as always (I may not say it, but this is true for all my reviews) these are *my* opinions and you may not agree! You might love what I hate or vice versa. So always be sure to hold my views up to your own.
Book Princess Reviews is taking on an exciting blog challenge in April! Every day of the month, we will use one of the thirty rights from the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a theme for our blog post. Later this week, Mandy will post a proper intro, but for now, let me explain how Chooseday Tuesday will go down.
With four Tuesdays in April, I’m going to kick off the month by offering FOUR books that I chose based on human rights. You still get to vote when I read which book, but each will be reviewed by month’s end. Cool? Cool. Cool!
(1) Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off on a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.
As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.
As she awaits the judge’s decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine…
(2) Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.
The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.
Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…
(3) The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle
Fear permeates the Rhode Island coastal town where Robert, his mother, and sister are living out the war with his paternal grandparents: Fear of Nazi submarines offshore. Fear of Abel Hoffman, a German artist living reclusively outside of town. And for Robert, a more personal fear, of his hot-tempered, controlling grandfather.
As Robert watches the townspeople’s hostility toward Hoffman build, he worries about his sensitive cousin Elliot’s friendship with the artist. And he wonders more and more about the family secret everyone seems to be keeping from him—a secret involving Robert’s father, a bomber pilot in Europe.
(4) Feed by M.T. Anderson
For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires.
Comment below what book I should read and review for next week!
📷 = @shaniasquires