Paranormal-ish Young Adult
Available January 8th
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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 a story that from the synopsis sounds like it's going to be a creepy little murder mystery, and though a serial killer does leave his mark on the pages, what we find is a more character-driven story than initially expected. It bears mentioning however that Ms. Yovanoff's approach to strong characterization is slightly different in nature – rather than taking a chisel in hand and shaping Hannah and Finny from her mind's eye for us she instead gives us a solid block of marble and a rough sketch for reference, and then turns the tools over to us. We're able to see what she's started, with hints of who these characters are placed carefully and with purpose, but ultimately we're given the opportunity to read into everything that's left unsaid, drawing our own conclusions and ultimately having a hand in the crafting of our relationship with them.
Hannah is not a young woman we know all that well by the end of the story, but what we do know of her is intimate and poignant, and in the end, far more perfect than an in-depth character study would have been in this case. In the beginning Hannah is lacking in substance and transparent to our eyes, not because substance isn't there, but rather because we haven't yet been granted access to it. Slowly over the course of the story we learn about Hannah as she learns about herself, the focus of the story more on the person she was when best friend Lillian was alive versus the person she is now after her death, and we both struggle to determine if there is truly a difference between the two or if the real Hannah has been present all along.
Hannah's relationship with Finny is a bit like watching one of those shows on the Discovery Channel about how something is made, knowing that if we just watch closely enough, we'll walk away from this story a bit richer, privileged to have been exposed to something fascinating. Superficially, Finny and Hannah's romance seems extraordinarily quiet and a bit slow, their time together categorized by long silences not a result of sexual tension, but rather because neither quite has a firm grasp on who they are as individuals given they've both been defined by people and factors outside themselves for so long, and before they can fully relate to someone else, they must first figure out how to relate to themselves. Despite the fact that not much is said between them, they communicate beautifully, using the moments in between words to say what the other most needs to hear.
Overall, Paper Valentine is a bit of an unexpected read; those looking for a murder mystery could easily breeze through this book and find a satisfying if not completely unique story, but they would be missing out on what elevates this book from typical to special. This is a story where part of the experience is analyzing all that's not printed on the pages, spending long minutes after reading thinking over every action and thought to see what other meanings we can decipher when we look at the negative space instead of the positive.