Monday, April 15, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Has anyone read Brenna Yovanoff's book The Replacement?  It's a spooky, weird, dark little fairytale about a boy who doesn't fit in -- not in this world, and not in the fae world he visits.  It's a fascinating book but quite dark -- Paper Valentine continues that tradition.

Paper Valentine is unsettling.  It ends unresolved, in some ways.  It discusses a disturbing issue.  And it's a really, really interesting psychological story.

I liked it.

Not in the "This-is-my-favorite-book-of-all-time" kind of way (like Blink & Caution or Shadow & Bone were) but "This-is-a-very-unique-book-and-wow-I'm-so-glad-I-got-to-read-this" kind of way.

Paper Valentine focuses on a girl, Hannah, who lives in a small town.  It's summertime.  And her best friend's ghost is following her around.  Also...she might be attracted to Finney Boone, the guy who scrubbed her face with snow in elementary school.

As the plot thickens, dead girls begin cropping up, surrounded by plastic toys and childish paraphernalia.  And a single valentine cut out of paper.  Hannah catches glimpses of the gruesome scenes while working for her cousin, who develops the photos at her shop for the police.

Hannah's dead friend becomes obsessed with the murders, dragging Hannah along for the ride.  Will Hannah be able to unravel this mystery, or will it be the end of her?

So: Hannah's dealing with her best friend's ghost, a constant reminder of the way she died (it is hinted that she died from complications due to bulimia or anorexia); a family who's freaked out by the serial killer (which means she's cooped up with her friend's ghost -- not a pleasant way to spend the summer); Finney Boone, who starts showing a gentle side; and her own guilt and feelings when it comes to her friend's death, the way she treated Finney in elementary school, and her friend's need to find the killer.

Paper Valentine weaves complex psychological elements into the characters early, but doesn't start pulling threads until you've made up your mind about the characters.

Do you like Hannah?  Well, she's in a clique of mean girls who made fun of Finney when they were younger.  She's never been able to get away from their influence.  She's living in her head more than she's living in real life.

Do you like Finney?  Well, we don't know much about him.  He could even be the serial killer.  Aren't they supposed to turn on the charm when they meet a potential victim?

It goes on like this for a while, beckoning you this way and that, tantalizingly giving you one piece of information at a time, never enough to put it all together until the very end.

While I didn't completely buy the ending, it has started to make sense now that I've had a few days to think about it.  What I really loved is that it's a character that runs true to form for a serial killer.  It's someone you know.  You trust him.  You don't even give him a second thought, since you've been in his house before.  But once you really see him, you wonder why it never occurred to you why his eyes are so lifeless.

(And the only reason I didn't buy the ending was that we never got much time with that character.  There wasn't as much of a build up as there needed to be.)

I loved that Hannah wasn't a reliable narrator.  The more you learn about her and Finney you realize she's looked at him wrong her whole life.  He's a hooligan and he steals from the gas station, but that doesn't mean he can't also be a sweet, gentle guy.  And it doesn't mean he should be automatically pointed to as the main suspect.

Paper Valentine is full of mystery.  It's creepy, scary, dark, and contains some thematic elements not for the younger crowd (there's a oujia board used for a seance at least twice, and there's a few romantic moments, although nothing graphic).  It's a lot of psychology.  It's about grief, anger, and hopelessness.

But the rays of hope emanated by Hannah and Finney's relationship are beautiful to behold.  In the midst of this nightmare, they find each other and gently, kindly lead each other to a better understanding of each other.

Finney's the type of character I always gravitate toward -- the misunderstood antihero.  He reminds me of a slightly younger John Bender (from The Breakfast Club) -- a guy who's got it rough and pretends that he's rough, while on the inside, he's actually sweet; he's a person yearning for love.

If you enjoy ghost stories, psychological thrillers, mysteries, or paranormal stories, you would probably like this book.

I'll be reviewing Cinder by Marissa Meyer next week.  Stay tuned!

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