Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff. Razorbill 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Mystery / Ghost Story

Paper Valentine HardcoverPaper Valentine Paperback Face Value: I love this cover. In fact, the cover on the left is a huge part of why I was excited about this book. The stylized paper cutout, the intricately cut heart, the desolate background – I think it all works perfectly.  The upcoming paperback cover (right) is much more generic “dead-girl” so if you’re looking to make a purchase, I would act now or plan on an ebook.

Does it Break the Slate? Eventually. Hannah is not a Slatebreaker in the early pages of this book. She’s a lovely, thoughtful, sincere person, but she is paralyzed with sadness and guilt and fear. At the start of the book, she’s not very proactive, and she makes some dumb choices during the course of it. BUT. As the story moves forward, Hannah starts to stand up for who she is, and ultimately save herself.

Who would we give it to? Mystery readers and ghost story lovers will find a whole lot to appreciate in this story. I also think that girls who love Weetzie Bat, and slightly fantastical stories about girls who make their own dresses out of flower petals will appreciate Hannah and Lillian and what happens to them.

 Review: It’s the hottest July on record. A serial killer is murdering girls in the peaceful community of Ludlow. And Hannah is being haunted by the ghost of her best friend Lillian, who died from anorexia complications six months earlier. Hannah founds herself caught up in the community panic and her own search for the murderer, as well as kissing the enigmatic Finny Boone

This book has had mixed reviews in the blogosphere, and a lot of people I generally agree with didn’t care for it. I really found myself compelled by the story though, and I thought Yovanoff did a great job of weaving the different strands of the story together. The ultimate result is poignant, and the writing is beautiful. Lillian’s eating disorder is handled delicately, and with honesty and frankness. It isn’t the only thing that defines this character, but we do see how it consumed her, especially at the end. And the atmosphere is built up terrifically. The sweaty anxiety that perpetuates the town as the murders keep happening and the temperature keeps rising is palpable. I’ve read all three of Yovanoff’s books now, and I’ve found that she really excels at describing the lines where fantasy crosses into reality, and those worlds merge.

But Hannah’s character is at the crux of this book, and whether or not it is ultimately a Slatebreaking story. Hannah is hurting so hard at the start of the book, and I think a lot of readers will empathize with her. She still feels the guilt over not being able to help Lillian out of her disorder, and the constant need to be worrying about her her that had consumed the last years of their friendship. With Lillian’s ghost in the room (literally and figuratively), she can’t move on, or make any decisions about her own life.

This on its own would not make for a Slatebreaking narrative. But the thing is – the big thing – is that Hannah’s whole journey over the course of the book, from kissing Finny to telling off the snotty Angelie to finally confronting Lillian, to eventually figuring out who the murderer is  – it’s all part of that journey. It’s all part of pushing Hannah to scream out lout what she needs, what has to happen, and not ask or apologize for it. That’s what saves her life, in the end, but it’s also what makes us as readers understand that she’s going to be a tougher, more confident girl when its all over. I believed in her – I was proud of her. And That’s why my ultimate statement on this book is yes – it does break the slate.

Reviewed from library copy.

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