ARC Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff


title:  Paper Valentine

author:  Brenna Yovanoff

pages: 304

format: Kindle ARC 

isbn/asin: 978-1595145994

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Mindee Arnett, April Genevieve Tucholke (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), and Kelsey Sutton (Some Quiet Place).  Readers looking for deeply human characters and an admirable heroine.  

My Ratings Explained

Crack your head, knock you dead, then Prince Harming's hunger's fed. 
The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

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.

the basics
This book was good, but not what I expected.  It was quite some time before the real murder mystery got going.  Maybe that's what notched it down a star for me.  The beginning was too sleepy, too focused on other things.  That said, there was depth to it I hadn't expected, in a good way.  Hannah, our mousy, sweet protagonist, is haunted by the ghost of her best friend Lillian, dead from anorexia.  It doesn't quite fit with the theme of the murders, but their relationship is a beautiful commentary on competition, fitting in, friendship.  Then there's your typical bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold plotline, which is so overdone but really cute anyway.  The actual murder plotline is weirdly underemphasized and I'm not sure I buy it.  Still, it's interested, the writing is solid, and I was actually pretty compelled by the Lillian-Hannah relationship, perhaps even more than the murders.    

plot . 3/5
The plot felt a little unfocused.  It's actually a while before the murders really become central.  For most of the beginning, you're really focusing on Hannah's grief over the slow death of her best friend, Lillian, to anorexia.  And her struggle to adjust to the fact that Lillian's ghost is now following her.  And that her life post-Lillian, post-popularity, has changed.  Which is a fine story to me.  Honestly, I didn't need the murders.  They were interesting, they moved the plot a little, but they didn't really feel integral until the last half.  And the whole Hannah-finding-the-killer bit just didn't have much punch.  I was totally satisfied with Hannah learning who she really was outside of the popularity competition, her relationship with Lillian, and her new friendship with Finny.  That part alone makes the book worth the read.  The murder?  That's icing.   

concept . 4/5
Broken record time:  I thought the most interesting thing about this book was the relationship between Lillian and Hannah and the idea that Hannah had been an extension of Lillian before, and now had to find out who she was.  That's cool!  It's a cool take on a ghost story.  It gives some depth to the horror.  I didn't have a problem with the murder thing, to be fair.  It's interesting.  Valentine serial killer.  Hannah is the only one who can help, because only she can see the ghosts.  Only it wasn't fleshed out enough!  It felt like two different books pieced together.  I'm being harsh, because it was still an enjoyable read.  I just wanted more!  

characters . 5/5
Part of the reason I enjoyed this so much despite my complaints was the characters.  Hannah is an interesting combination.  She was popular through her friend, but she doesn't have the hallmark confidence and style of popularity.  She tried to stay whimsical, but realized that she was keeping part of herself hidden.  Part of the fun of this book was watching Hannah grapple with who she was and who she had only been pretending to be.  Then there was the interplay between her and Lillian, the girl obsessed with perfection, who died for it.  Hannah starts out pretty meek, but we see her anger come out.  Her anger at her friend for abandoning her.  It's cool!  We also get some real family, which is rare for young adult, and an adorably spunky little sister who actually gets screen time.  Then there's Finny, bad boy with a heart of gold, aka my weakness.  The only one I disliked was the villain.  He/she felt so unreal, I just didn't care.  

style . 4/5
It's a pretty, clean kind of style.  Hannah's voice feels very unique compared to other young adult novels I've read.  Sometimes they can all mush together, but Hannah stands out.  She notices strange things.  She has insights a little beyond her years, but not enough to seem unreal.  I felt like I was in it.  

mechanics . 3/5
Like I said, there just wasn't enough integration of the plots.  The murder stuff felt all shoved it at the end, not worked through the whole book like it should have been.  That kept me a bit confused.  I felt like I wasn't really getting the book I'd been promised.  I also felt a little off-kilter.  

take home message
An atmospheric mystery that goes beyond the murder to look at friendship, grief, and the struggles of popularity.   

Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


  1. I have read split reviews on this one, and I am still on the fence. I like the idea of the concept and the characters but the slow pace might be a bit of a struggle. Still I want to read something by this author soon! Thanks for your helpful input!

    1. I had the same struggle writing it. I liked it but it just didn't deliver what I felt it promised. I'm eager to try The Replacements, though. That one seems super creepy and fun. Glad to be of service. (: