Title: Paper Valentine
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Year Published: 2013
Synopsis: 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.
Review: This book was not really at all what I expected. I kind of thought Lillian was going to be one of the murder victims, but that was totally wrong. I also thought that this was set in a different world for some reason... also pretty wrong. But you know what? It was even better because I was wrong about those (and other) things. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it was so hard to put it down so that I could do things that I needed to get done. This book is about love and loss and it's heartbreaking and terrifying and just all the feels.
One of my favorite parts about this book was the setting. We know that Hannah lives in Ludlow, but that's about it. She could be living in the States (which I think is most likely) but we're never told specifically which one. She could be somewhere in Europe. Or maybe it's a fictional Ludlow. Not knowing does not take away from this book, and all of the contemporary references (the girls visit Dairy Queen and Claire's, for instance), make it really easy to connect with this book and the characters. Apart from the paranormal aspects, this story could happen anywhere to any teenage girl. The characters, both minor and major, are all the same types of people that most high school kids know. It's kind of remarkable how well Brenna Yovanoff creates a town that could be any town in the US.
The setting and not knowing where exactly Ludlow is really helps the plot, in my opinion. The Valentine Killer could literally be anyone, and yet even in a town where most people know each other and the crime rate is low, nobody is really a suspect. Hannah is only able to put pieces together because of the ghost girls, especially Lillian. Everyone has their secrets, and without the girls it would have been impossible for Hannah to gather all of the information she does. I would be terrified if I was haunted by even my dead best friend, and I loved how Hannah grew and became a stronger person because of the hauntings.
Aside from helping Hannah with the murders, I think Lillian's ghost is really important in helping Hannah move on, stop blaming herself, and become a stronger person. Lillian isn't murdered - she effectively kills herself several months before the start of this book, although she does suffer a very slow death. She's sick, and no matter how hard Hannah tries, there's nothing she could have done to save Lillian. It's actually really sad, and I really kind of liked how Yovanoff worked a real problem into this book and had the characters have to deal with loss that way. Lillian is eventually able to admit to Hannah why she did what she did, and I loved seeing Lillian change over the course of the book just as much as Hannah did.
And then there's Finny, who is not your typical romantic interest. But honestly? He's one of my favorites that I've read so far. He's huge and scary and he does things that make him seem like the worst person for Hannah to be involved with... but once you get to know him with Hannah, I think you'll love him too. He's really just a big teddy bear, and that made me so happy. There's no instalove, and the relationship is very slow, but it fit the characters and felt very natural.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes books like Anna Dressed in Blood or murder mysteries with a paranormal aspect. It's not quite as terrifying as Anna Dressed in Blood, and is definitely a tamer sort of horror, but I wouldn't really recommend it to a younger audience. The details of the deaths are not gross and bloody or anything, but there are some parts that might be a little scary. I will definitely be reading Brenna's other books! 5/5 for sure.