Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Publication Date: January 8th, 2013
Format: ARC, 304 pages
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

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.

While the summary insinuated of a murderer on a killing spree, Yovanoff didn’t really satiate my appetite for the gore. I have to admit though, that I was both relieved and disappointed that she opted not to write the scenes of the crime descriptively. There were hints of blood, bruises and cuts but never anything that would cause vertigo over the disturbing killings. But even if I’m disappointed in that aspect of the book, I still think that Yovanoff wrote with such lyrical flourish that I couldn’t help but read with open admiration for her words.

This novel is about a town in fear of a murderer – so much so that they have become prisoners of their own homes. Amidst the summer heat and the incessant worries, Hannah is being haunted by her dead best friend. But you won’t find her freaking out every time Lillian appears; in fact, it was as though she’s still alive. Their relationship and interactions didn’t change at all. Except Hannah couldn’t really tell her family that she’s still hanging around. I never got to find out what her unresolved matters are – don’t know why she can’t go to where she needed to go. Though I’m sure we were told at the end of the book but it’s all very…vague to me.

To be honest, I can’t quite wrap my head around this book. For all its talks of a rampaging murderer, the book’s sole focus is really about the relationships of its characters. It’s a coming of age book where our heroine finds a kindred spirit with a boy who, once upon a time, smushed her face in the snow. They’ve never really had any form of connection. He’s the consummate dark character: silent, brooding, often in trouble but has the penchant for being kind toward Hannah. I liked the progression of their relationship. It’s one of those, they wake up one day and realized how aware they were of each other.

For me, the major seller of this book was the paper heart cut-outs left by the killer with his victims. I wanted to know why; I wanted to know its significance and how it relates to the killer. In the end, the reason was disappointing. It was almost a random thought – without meaning or purpose. And the same goes with the killer. I wasn’t given any hints or even premonitions as to who the killer was. While I can appreciate that to some degree, I’d still would like to be able to make some guesses. I think there was only a page where the actual process of deduction happened and then before I know it, Hannah has the killer. But of course, what’s a good murder/mystery novel without a twist? There had to be a twist.

Yovanoff’s style of writing is very simplistic but if you really spend time with the composition, you will find a hidden depth. It’s disconcerting in a way that it’s almost deceptive. This eerie, somewhat romantic novel will appeal to readers who’d like a taste of horror without too much gore (yes, it is possible!). But among other things, this is a story of a girl coming into grips with the loss of her best friend and her regrets over the things she could’ve done to cry for help when her best friend refused to.

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