Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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Publication: January 8th 2013
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 304 pages
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Paranormal, Supernatural, Horror, Romance, Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

After reading, and falling in love, with many of Brenna Yovanoff’s short stories I finally decided to read one of her novels, and it won’t be my last. 

Paper Valentine isn’t a normal Young Adult mystery for a number of reasons. While the murders are serious to the plot, it isn’t the only thing about the story. And it isn’t until the last four or five chapters where the killer is found and caught. Hannah doesn’t spend her time obsessively trying to find out who the murderer is like some YA protagonists do in mystery novels. While she’s interested in who murdered the girls, she never actually accuses someone until near the end which leaves the reader wondering who the murderer is too. It was refreshing to read from a protagonist who rightly acknowledges that she isn’t able to solve a murder (though she does serendipitously in the end) because she is only sixteen.

And Hannah isn’t a normal Young Adult protagonist. She isn’t a special little snowflake with a power that can save the universe, she’s just an ordinary (alright, semi-ordinary. Being able to see ghosts isn’t exactly ordinary) sixteen-year-old girl grieving over the death of her friend Lillian. Of course, this grieving is complicated by the fact that Lillian has been haunting Hannah for six months after her death. For most of the story, the reader gets to see inside Hannah’s head and gets to see who she really is versus the happy persona she presents to the world.

It was because of this that Hannah has quickly become one of my favourite protagonists. I haven’t read such a realistic portrayal of grief in a YA novel in I don’t know how long. Even though the novel takes place six months after Lillian’s death, it shows the complexity of grief. How Hannah is expected to move on and in order to seem like she is she has to lie about how she is feeling to her friends and family. She has to pretend that her life has moved on after losing her best friend because that’s what is expected of her. But I loved seeing her development. I loved seeing her start falling for Finny and being more comfortable with showing how she truly felt than putting on a persona for everyone else. I liked that she recognized her faults and mistakes in the past, and how she used this knowledge to figure out who she was in the present. It was nice to see Hannah get to recognize her grief and try to learn what she should do to move past it.

I also loved how Lillian and Hannah’s relationship was portrayed. I loved seeing how much Hannah missed Lillian even though she saw her ghost everyday, and how conflicted she was over her death about whether she should treat the anorexia as an illness or blame Lillian for not stopping it. And I liked that Lillian’s illness wasn’t romanticized like so many illnesses and diseases become romanticized. I remember when anorexia was a “popular” topic to use in novels and movies and how it became tragic and lovely to look at or read. The same thing happened when The Fault in Our Stars came out and it became popular to romanticize cancer and forget how horrific it is. With Lillian’s illness and death their isn’t a long discussion about how she suffered or what happened. She simply suffered from an illness and died. You don’t need a longer explanation than that.

There were some things in the novel that were a little weird. I didn’t understand how or why ghosts were attracted to Hannah. And the whole villain reveal was kind of unbelievable. Despite this, Paper Valentine is an amazing and unique YA novel. I will definitely be reading more of Yovanoff’s books in the future.

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