Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Rating: **** / 4 out of 5
Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery, Drama, Contemporary
Published January 8, 2013 by Razorbill

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Actual rating: 3.5.

I bought Paper Valentine not knowing the author’s style of writing. I certainly knew, though, that many people like her prose. I’ve read here and there from bloggers left and right that she writes intricately and beautifully. And she does, actually. I really enjoyed reading Hannah’s internal monologue – her feelings, her reactions to things, her reflections and insights about other people and about herself, her frustrations, her loneliness – everything. They were well done, and I applaud the author for being able to capture the main character’s emotions and letting the reader feel them, too. I kid you not that many writers out there try to make the same effect, but those who can really do so are far and few between. I mean, take a look at these quotes:

Ariel stood up from the table and slammed her geography book shut. “Mom. If Hannah was on fire, she would still say she’s OK.”

I think of this and how my mom spent all those months hovering over me, like she was so determined to do whatever she thought I needed, but Ariel was the only one who understood that sometimes that’s the only thing you can be. My mom wanted me to go back to the girl I’d been before – the one who was never any trouble. Ariel was the one who wanted me to get better.


Lillian scoots to the edge of the bed, looking down at me over the side. “Aren’t you going to read any of the articles? It’s what you wanted, right?”

I lie on my back and study the ceiling, which is covered in smears of glitter glue and stick-on stars. The way Lillian says it is hungry, like she’s waiting for something to be revealed, and I wonder if maybe that’s the real difference against us – that when she pulls back the curtain and stares into the blackness behind it, it’s just one more way of teasing herself. Like some game you can never win, because if you face all the shocking realities and the horrors of the world, once you’ve seen that kind of awfulness, you can never un-see it. You have to carry it around with you forever.”


Our whole lives, it was like we were always trying so hard to be perfect – for our families and our friends, for each other – when the funny thing was, we didn’t have to. In the end, we were better than that.

See? They’re beautiful lines of internal monologue, and it was through these same lines that I was really able to get to know Hannah better, and how in some ways, I shared whatever she felt, be it anger, frustration, discontentment, or happiness. Yes, there were times she was really annoying with her passivity and indifference towards certain things that were supposed to evoke strong reactions, but in the end, we get to see why she feels that way and her justifications for holding herself back. But the thing is, we see her grow and we see her self-acceptance in the end that makes everything just right, and it feels very, very good. I, at least, felt that way. Sure, this journey of finding herself after the death of her best friend really just had to go with a chain of events of gruesome and ghastly murders, and with a troubled boy who also finds peace within himself, but the thing is, it just happens, and it just works. This is why I love first-person point of views.

With that said, why only 3.5? As beautiful as the prose can be, it has its own bumps as well… bumps that made it difficult for me to really appreciate its entirety. Of course, these hurdles are all absolutely subjective, because I just have my own pet peeves that sometimes I wish I let go, but I just can’t (hehe). There were times where I would encounter a really weird, a really cliché and cheesy line or two, and I swear, my God, it would make me cringe, and roar, and twitch like a wild animal with rabies. I’m sure a lot of people would probably appreciate them, but I didn’t, and I wish the author just edited them out. Here are two, because I didn’t take note of all of them:


I walk the three blocks to the school slowly, like if I’m not careful of every step, every tiny movement, I will lose my grip on gravity and go flying into the stratosphere.



And then we’re looking at each other, and it’s a look that goes on and on, stretching across space and time.Across galaxies.

Across galaxies? Really? Wow, I wish I could stare at someone with a gaze that will reach the cosmos!

Okay, like I said, this petty complaint of mine is subjective… Some of you will probably not find anything wrong in those lines that I just quoted, but I swear, I thought the cheesiness just… ugh. It felt over-the-top, like words put there to make it poetic by using hyperbolic phrases, but the thing is, even without these talks of reaching the stratosphere and stares that reach galaxies, Brenna Yovanoff’s prose would still be poetic and beautiful in their own sense.

Aside from that, there were some things I found myself uneasy with. The mystery, I thought, was well panned out. The tension leading to it, from all the consequent murders, to the panicing that went out from too-worrisome mothers and sisters, to the climax and finally to the conclusion, was well written. The romance, however, was stark in contrast to it. I found the romance element lacking somehow, like there was no real build-up leading to it. It just happened. It’s not it’s there in a blink of an eye, but more like, the interactions that came before it didn’t really seem to justify the steering to it. Does that make sense? Like, okay, they had a couple of conversations, some of them about the heroine just staring at him or them both in deafening silence, and then something happens, then they kiss, and suddenly they’re making out next, like… yeah. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved Hannah and Finny together, I totally ship them, just that I thought it could have used more build-up.

Having said all of those, Paper Valentine is still an engaging and compelling read. It encompasses many themes that will hit home, like friendship, self-acceptance, and finding peace within oneself. Yes, it’s a story with ghosts and murders of little girls, but they’re just a background of something more and meaningful, of letting go and moving on, and of finally realizing one’s self-worth. It will make you laugh, angry, frustrated and cry, but they’re all worth it!

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A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena


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  1. Jaime Lester says

    I have read both of Brenna’s previous books, The Space Between and The Replacement, and I loved them. her writing is incredibly gorgeous, as you said. And her ability to bring a character to the forefront, and have you know them so well within a few pages. I loved the characters in her previous books, and I love the characters in this one too. But I had a harder time with this book that the others. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t nearly as engrossed in the story as I thought that I would be. The end, thankfully, pulled me back into the story and by the final pages I was feeling that same feeling as I had hoped I would feel. She is still an author on my “Buy Immediately” list!