Six months ago, Hannah’s best friend Lillian died, wasted away after a battle with anorexia. Somehow, Lillian never left, and only Hannah can see her skeletal ghost always hovering in the background. It’s all Hannah can do to deal with her friend’s haunting and maintain a happy face for family and friends. But when someone starts killing teenage girls in her neighborhood park, Hannah suddenly has more than one ghost to deal with.
Author Brenna Yovanoff has created a rich, layered novel that perfectly interlaces a love story, a murder mystery and a story of grief. The goosebumps-inducing creepiness of the young girls’ murders and Hannah’s compulsion to solve them is balanced by the giddy excitement of her crush and budding relationship with the local bad boy. Her feelings about Lillian's death, from the guilt she feels for not stopping it to the anger she has toward Lillian for letting it happen, are fresh. It's not a one-sided expression of grief; it’s something she can talk about with the dead girl herself.
The novel’s main problem is its false resolutions. Sometimes an issue seems to be resolved, only for the reader to be dragged back into the conflict a few chapters later. While false starts and red herrings make the mystery aspect of the story more suspenseful, they can be frustrating when applied to Hannah and Lillian's relationship.
Paper Valentine is both frightening and hopeful, a novel that uses the supernatural to make a common YA storyline seem totally unique.
Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.