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.
A book that contains both eerie ghosts and a serial killer who places little toy trinkets and paper hearts around his victims? Sign me up. Seriously though, I had been in the mood to read something eerie, and definitely tense and thrilling. This book seemed exactly that.
However, when I actually started reading Paper Valentine, that feverish interest I had wanted to feel never really arrived. I pressed on, expecting that the author was biding her time, waiting to sneak up on me and dump all of the excitement that comes with reading a mystery novel down my back like it was a bucket of glow in the dark paint.
All I got for my waiting, really, was a mystery that solved itself without much exploration by the main character, and a final scene that had so much potential to be climactic, but for me, fell flat.
What I love about mystery novels is that it’s really easy to raise the stakes. When the protagonist is searching to find a killer, it can be very easy for them to get right up close and personal with the force they’re up against, not only at the end, but throughout the novel. It doesn’t even have to be the main character. It can be anyone who matters to the reader, really. Put anyone in any kind of danger and I’ll care.
The issue I had with Paper Valentine was that for 90% of the book it felt like Hannah was tucked away in a kind of safe zone far away from the violence, even though everything was happening so close to where she lived. Even when Hannah does confront an aspect of the mystery towards the middle of the book, emphasis was taken away from the dangers of *killer running loose* and instead placed on other issues.
For the last 10% of the book, it was like Yovanoff attempted to turn up the heat but backed out at the last minute. To me it felt like Hannah’s life was tucked away from the conflict separately and safely, so it was hard to get invested in the climax.
When all was finally revealed, I wasn’t satisfied. It felt like Yavanoff chose the identity of the killer out of convenience and a desire to surprise the reader, rather than because it was key to the story. While I’ll have to admit I didn’t see the ending coming, it wasn’t an exciting twist. I felt like I was looking through a hazy viewfinder and everything nudged into focus.
While there were certain moments where the dialogue seemed natural, nearly everything that Lillian and Hannah said sounded a bit off to me, like no real person would actually say what they did.
This was also true about Hannah’s internal dialogue. While the world around her was described well enough, Hannah spent a lot of time focused on rephrasing how she perceived the world. It got to the point where it felt like Hannah was forcing her ideals into my brain and like I was being spoon-fed the themes of the novel. Her message was so parallel to the story I didn’t understand why the narrative took a detour instead of integrating the gist in a more subtle way.
For me, this was definitely the strong point of Paper Valentine. Lillian’s personality was so vivid, it was immediately clear how much of a dominating presence she was in Hannah’s life. Ariel, Hannah’s sister, was also very lifelike, even though at times I was a bit confused by her age. She was supposed to be twelve, but her and her friend Pinky seemed much younger to me. I adored Finny Boone. He was very interesting and well developed, and though I would like to have seen his past explored a bit more, the insight into his life was perfect for it’s use in the story.
This book certainly wasn’t a bad read, and I did find myself interested in the story’s outcome, even if that interest was just a general curiosity. I really did like reading about Hannah, but I can’t say the story lived up to my expectations.