Wow. This is my first Brenna Yovanoff book. I will definitely be reading the rest of her books based on the strength of Paper Valentine. The writing was excellent and I really loved the story and the main characters.
Paper Valentine is a story about loss first and foremost. The main character Hannah has recently lost her best friend Lillian, who essentially starved herself to death. Hannah is not really coping with this all too well, though to the outside world she still puts up a happy front. What doesn't help is that she is being haunted by the ghost of her best friend. Initially it seems as though Lillian is just a manifestation of Hannah's guilt, eating away at her, but it soon becomes clear that this is not the case.
It is the start of the summer, normally a happy time, but a string of violent and horrific murders soon hit the town of Ludlow. Young girls are being killed, their bodies left in the nearby park in some sort of ritualistic setting, and no one has any idea who the culprit may be. Hannah finds herself, at the urging of Lillian, investigating these gruesome crimes. Hannah also gets caught up with local delinquent Finnegan (Finny) Boone. Hannah has known Finny all of her life but they have moved in very different circles. Their few interactions have generally been fraught but Hannah can remember a day, not long after Lillian's death, when Finny showed her unexpected kindness. She is drawn to this boy, whose past is shrouded in mystery. For his part, Finny is a very different kind of love interest. He does not sound immediately appealing, with his bleached hair, tall lurking body and missing finger but as he and Hannah interact more, you begin to see beyond the surface, just as Hannah does. Their romance is a subtle thing, at times their interactions are a little flowery in description but Hannah is quite an introspective character so it fits within the narrative. Hannah has shut in on herself. Finny is the only person she feels comfortable opening up to, even though he is not the most verbose character himself.
The main focus is the mysterious and frightening murders. Hannah (with help from Lillian) is determined to find the killer. A year ago, there was another murder of a young girl (who had been a classmate of theirs) and Hannah soon twigs that there is a link between this girl and the more recent murders. When she was still alive, Lillian and Hannah had tried to contact the spirit of their murdered classmate through a ouija board. They did manage to contact the spirit of the girl, though at the time Hannah was skeptical, believing Lillian was pulling a prank on her. The ouija board spelled out 'paper valentine' and when Hannah comes across the crime scene photos, and sees this paper valentine propped up next to the bodies, she realizes that it must have been the same killer. Hannah soon begins seeing other strange apparitions. The murdered girls are reaching out to her, urging her to help find their killer. Will Hannah be able to find this killer before it is too late and someone closer to home becomes the next victim?
Although the murders were the main drive of the story, there were a lot of other things going on in this book. There was the still-raw grief that Hannah was going through, not made any easier by Lillian's almost constant, snarky ghostly presence. There was romance (I loved Hannah and Finny's interactions), family/friendship dramas and woes plus all the paranormal/thriller elements. Overall, I think all of the themes worked well within the context of the story (although I would have liked a little more explanation for why Hannah could see ghosts - was it her guilt over not being able to help Lillian, was she psychic, why did the murdered girls reach out to her specifically?) and I really couldn't put the book down at all even though I stayed up past 4am. I just had to find out was was going on.
I did have an inkling about who the killer was ****spoiler begins****I went back and forth on two of the characters - and my suspicions turned out to be dead right****spoiler ends**** but it wasn't because it was predictable (the clues were there though - you just had to look to see them). I liked Hannah as a character a lot, and her relationships with both Finny and Lillian. Hannah was a girl who seemed to have a lot of growing up to do. You can see from some of her past interactions with Finny that she was a bit of a mean girl, but she really grows throughout the course of the story. I liked her developing romantic relationship with Finny. Both have hurts in their past and you can see that together they will help each other heal. More central to the story is Hannah's relationship with Lillian though. The two girls were inseparable (even in death Lillian cannot leave Hannah's side). I liked the resolution of their story though it was certainly a sad one.
I really loved Paper Valentine. I found myself completely immersed in the storyline and the characters were ones that I really wanted to keep on reading about. The story was gripping and though I was relieved to get to the end (the tension started getting a little too much) at the same time I was sad to let these characters go. Brenna Yovanoff has a new fan and I cannot wait to read her other books (and I already own The Space Between - yay!).