Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Summary: Record heat and dying birds…something is amiss in Hannah’s small town. When a string middle school-aged girls is murdered, the town goes into panic mode. Hannah is strangely fascinated with the murders: because her best friend’s ghost has haunted her for six months, she has a connection with the dead. As Hannah begins to put together the pieces, the killer inches closer to her own family.
My thoughts: There’s something exquisite about Brenna Yovanoff’s writing. It’s filled with a surprising depth: each sentence packs a punch. Paper Valentine is a bit of a slow read because of Yovanoff’s complex writing, but that certainly doesn’t take away from enjoying the novel. In fact, the easygoing pace seems to fit perfectly with the mellow, small-town setting of Paper Valentine. Hannah doesn’t seem particularly affected by the murders for quite some time, and neither do we, because of the way Paper Valentine is written. The atmosphere—the heat, the sweat, the dying birds—also add to the disconnect between us and the true tragedy of the murder.
Paper Valentine is what I’d consider magical realism: it is set mostly in reality, but little bits of the paranormal creep in to make you shudder. In Paper Valentine, the little bit of creepiness is Hannah’s best friend Lillian. Lillian makes you wonder whether or not Hannah is insane—whether the whole story is true or not. Lillian also adds a sorrowful edge to the story: we learn a little bit about what it’s like to have a friend with an eating disorder through her interactions with Hannah.
Though romance isn’t the central focus of Paper Valentine, I would like to point out how fabulously written this one was. Yovanoff doesn’t magnify or overdramatize teenage love, she merely lets it happen in an organic way. Hannah’s relationship with Finny may not give you tingles, but it feels real. Similarly, the relationship between Hannah and her sister is so natural that you barely even think about it.
Fans of the strange and the slightly creepy, check out Paper Valentine. This is an especially good read for the summertime, when the weather is sweltering and there’s nothing to do.
For those who like: magical realism, murder mysteries
Comment question: If your best friend was haunting you, how would you react?