Annotation: Haunted by the ghost of her best friend who died six months earlier, sixteen-year-old Hannah Wagner begins investigating the murder of young girls in a park near her house. When each body is discovered with a paper valentine attached, Hannah realizes that a serial killer is terrorizing her hometown, and that the key to catching him might lie with the ghosts of the girls he’s killed.
Personal thoughts: This is the second novel of Brenna Yovanoff’s that I’ve read, and I can safely say after thoroughly enjoying both that I am a fan. One of my favorite things about this author, apart from her dark, well-written stories, is that her novels are stand-alone. This means that the story is given a beginning, middle and end, leaving the reader feeling satisfied instead of longing for a sequel. I think it’s a huge accomplishment that the author can create something intriguing and with a great deal of depth without having to publish oodles of sequels. I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!
Plot summary: Six months ago, sixteen-year-old Hannah Wagner’s life changed forever when her best friend, Lillian, died. Now Hannah is being haunted by Lillian’s ghost, who is just as controlling as she was when she was alive. Hannah always followed Lillian’s lead with their other friends, but now that she’s on her own she isn’t sure if she fits in with the popular crowd anymore. To make matters worse, Hannah can’t stop thinking about Finny Boone, a delinquent and social outcast who has always been strangely kind to her. Living with the ghost of Lillian quickly becomes the least of Hannah’s problems, however, when a string of grisly murders begins happening in a park near her house. It seems that a serial killer is targeting young girls, leaving the bodies riddled with toys and a single paper valentine. Lillian urges Hannah to begin investigating the murders, but the more she learns, the more it seems like her life might be in danger next.
Review: Brenna Yovanoff is well-known in the young adult arena for her dark, quirky and well-written novels, and her latest, Paper Valentine, is no exception. Part murder-mystery, part ghost story, Paper Valentine weaves a complex and thoroughly enjoyable tale with interesting, well-developed characters. The relationship between Hannah and the ghost of her best friend Lillian is perhaps the most important part of the story. In life, popular girl Lillian was in charge. Hannah followed her charismatic friend’s lead, even as Lillian began to self-destruct thanks to a lifelong struggle with anorexia. Now that Lillian’s dead, Hannah feels more than a little lost, even with her friend’s ghost constantly hovering nearby. Readers who have ever had a relationship like that between Lillian and Hannah will identify with what Hannah feels, especially when she begins to make her own social decisions following Lillian’s death. For those readers who aren’t as interested in the friendship aspect of the novel, the mysterious murders committed by the Valentine Killer will provide more than a little entertainment. Hannah and Lillian are determined to find out the identity of the killer before more girls are murdered, but the more they uncover, the more they realize that there is nothing simple about the person who is targeting young girls, leaving their bodies littered with toys and a single paper valentine. Overall, Brenna Yovanoff’s latest novel is at times both exceptionally heartwarming and creepy. It will hold a lot of appeal to a variety of readers, both teen and adult.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, Croak by Gina Damico, Empty Coffin series by Gregg Olsen, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Hereafter series by Tara Hudson, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.
Themes: Friendship, murder, anorexia, relationships, mystery.
Awards/Reviews: Starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Series Information: N/A
- Have you ever had a friend like Lillian? Do you think she is a good friend to Hannah?
- Why do you think Hannah is so reluctant to admit her feelings for Finny?
- Why do you think Lillian is haunting Hannah?
- What is the significance of the toys surrounding the bodies of the murdered girls?
- Were you surprised to learn the identity of the Valentine Killer? Why or why not?
- How would you explain the ending of the novel?