by Brenna Yovanoff
Published: January 8th, 2013
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.
Paper Valentine was chosen for our February YAck. This discussion is exciting in that it introduces our lovely new YAcker, Heidi, we have the inaugural appearance of stunning new feature, Who Would Richard Armitage Play?, and we learn a new word. As per usual, this discussion contains spoilers, bad language and a complete lack of objectivity.
Sandy: Has the conversation for Paper Valentine officially started yet? o.o
Nicole: But I guess it has now!
Donna: I believe Brenna may be a kindred spirit.
Chachic: I should start reading it!
Melissa: That makes two of us, Chachic!
Heidi: Four...I'll probably start tomorrow. Ish. Depending on how snowpocalypse 2013 goes down round these parts.
Heidi: So...this is like a time warp to the '90s, right? Because the blurb said nothing about that, but the bleached hair, pay phones, and fact that there are still photo shops with enough print business to sustain themselves is giving me all sorts of flashbacks.
Donna: I definitely had a flashback to my high school days but I figured it was just my own head movies doing that. But now that you mention it Finny is looking rather like the toughs I used to see in the scary wing at school.
Chachic: So I started reading a couple of pages and I just wanted to ask, is this a scary novel? Because I'm alone in the flat and I'm a big scaredy-cat. I don't even watch horror movies.
Heidi: I've read 1/4 of it so far and it's not scary, but it could be headed for disturbing territory. My barometer's off because I like that sort of thing, but I think you're good for a while.
Chachic: Okay, thanks for the heads up! I'm too sleepy to read more tonight but I hope I'll have more time for it tomorrow.
Heidi: Yeah...there are parts you'll probably find scary. Heads up.
Sandy: Has anyone noticed how Brenna's writing has this kind of gravity to it? Like she can be talking about slurpies and it's SO INTENSE. o_O
Sya: Yes! It's all very weighty. But that kind of works with the oppressive atmosphere in this book. However, as with her first book, I found the end weak. Not the actual climax but what came after it. It's like she's great at all the intense stuff but once it's done and the tension defused her writing becomes awkward, almost twee. I liked the book as a whole but the last few pages weren't great and I hated the last line.
Donna: What is twee?
Nicole: I don't know what twee is but I have an overwhelming urge to use it to describe everything in my life. "This class is so twee!" "That outfit is twee." "I hate you! You're so twee!" "Oh my gosh, you are adorable! So twee!"
Heidi: Urban Dictionary definition here. It's actually a funny choice of word on Sya's part since at one point Hannah describes one of her dresses as a bit twee.
Sya: Yes, that's what it means. I hadn't actually realised it was in the book - it must have been lingering in my subconscious. On reflection, a better word would be trite.
Donna: I don't like the "twist" at the end simply because I didn't really find it all that twisty. Connor reminded me of the instigating crazy douche in Tucker and Dale vs Evil so I couldn't take him seriously. Not to mention I didn't think he was present enough to have it turn out that way. And the syrupy ending was all rather TWEE.
Heidi: Yeah I didn't find the twist (or the pre-twist) outcomes very believable. I suppose the book's unique for not following normal serial killer profiling at all, but that's also what made it unbelievable for me. I hate that thrillers almost always require villains monologuing about their dastardly deeds. Liked the rest of it quite a bit though!
Melissa: I was wondering who called it. I didn't, though I guess I can see where you're all coming from it being not believable. I don't know if a teenage boy would be that sophisticated; it seemed (in my infinite experience watching TV crime shows) that the murders were more.... adult in nature. And the whole monologuing thing was a bit much. That said, I'm not sure I ever really liked Hannah. I felt her pain, for sure -- it was an intense book -- but I didn't really connect with her as a character.
Donna: Three for the monologue. It's a bit typical. I mean while he was yammering on what stopped her from grabbing a stick and shanking his ass in the throat? WHEN WILL VILLAINS LEARN TO JUST SHUT UP AND KILL PEOPLE? And now that I think about it Hannah was really more of a conduit to get me through the story than anything I really connected it. I did like the story; I loved the thriller aspect and I think YA needs more of it. I would have liked to have Lillian be the only ghost in the story, though, and the rest be more of an insinuation of something supernatural than BAM. Ghosts. I think it would have been creepier.
Melissa: I didn't mind the extra ghosts, Donna, especially at the end when they were totally creeping him out. I do like the way you put it about Hannah, her being a conduit. She really was.
Laura: I can't read your comments yet because I'm still reading the book. It is mediocre AT THIS POINT and I'm seriously hoping for something to happen. I hate Lillian and want her to go away or be exorcised or go to hell, or wherever it is people go when they're really irritating. I am loving the little sister most of all, which has me afraid that she is in fact, WEARING A RED SHIRT. I love that Finn is missing a finger- like in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell where the Man With the Thistledown Hair kept Lady Pole's finger as a symbol of his claim of half her life in Faerie. All that makes me hope that HE IS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE, OR AT THE VERY LEAST SOMEONE IS BECAUSE THIS IS RATHER DULL AND PLODDING.
Chachic: Me too, I can't read the comments yet because I'm still in the middle of the book. And yes, also waiting for more exciting things to happen.
Melissa: Oh, it's really slow to get started. Lots and lots of angst. But it does pick up somewhere in the middle.
Nicole: It's really fun for me to read these comments because I'm about to start The Replacement. And by fun, I mean I don't know if I'm going to like or hate it.
Heidi: I'm with Donna on Hannah being a conduit--I never really connected to her either, but like Laura I was a huge fan of the little sis. My favorite aspect of this was all the creepiness, I didn't mind the other ghosts but it did get to a cheesy point. DEAD PEOPLE IN WATER TERRIFY ME YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH.
Melissa: The more I think about this, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that while it's a great ghost story, it's not a great murder mystery, and I'm not sure the two of those things worked especially well together.
Heidi: Yeah, can we acknowledge how there's that moment of gravitas where Hannah points out that the serial killer staging represents childhood, and you think it's going to be this big thing, and then they barely acknowledge it for the rest of the book? That bugged me.
Donna: Heidi, you just don't GET IT. She's SMART. Only the SMART girl figures shit out like that. The fact that is was totally IRRELEVANT to the rest of the story is, in fact, IRRELEVANT. BOW TO THE AWESOME OF THE SMART GIRL. I just remembered that I wanted to say this two days ago. Yay memory! I get really annoyed when a character gets beaten up by the author/her own personal head movies when she makes a perfectly logical leap of questioning just who someone really is. When Finny was pulled in for questioning? I was just downright annoyed by the berating that came from inside her head as if she did something wrong. All signs pointed to him and the reality is she didn't really KNOW him. Yeah, she went to school with him but she didn't know who his friends were, why he lost his finger, that he lived with his aunt, that they're an open foster family. Not to mention HE SCRAPED HER FACE WITH ICE when they were little. So when things started to go sour why WOULDN'T she question him? Why did she have to beat herself up over it? It's one thing to feel guilty after the fact when he's cleared but if he's all like, you don't trust me? I''d be like I DON'T KNOW YOU. But she took it to a whole level of self flagellation that just got on my nerves.
Sya: Yeah, what Donna said but I thought that a lot of that was meant to represent that she was surrounded by frenemies (including Lilian) who had constantly made her second guess her own judgement. Talking of which, Angelie (was that her name) was a brilliant bitch. Of the book as a whole, I just found it had too many threads. Ghosts, anorexia, bad boys, family, frenemies, murder. I thought that the murders were deliciously creepy and she should have built the story more around that issue. In fact, I probably wouldn't have missed the ghosts at all and found the initial Ouija board angle stunk of bad exposition/poor foreshadowing etc. I think that Brenna Yovanoff has a talent for starkly beautiful writing and clearly an eye for darkness but ultimately she shoved so much into this one that the myriad parts overwhelmed what could have been an interesting whole. Saying that, I couldn't put it down. Well, until the evil monologuing by Connor, at which point I couldn't pick it up.
Heidi: I do like that Finny didn't/wouldn't hold Hannah's suspicions against her though--he was very self aware of how things looked in regard to himself, and I agree with Sya that it reflected Hannah's long standing emotionally abusive friendships. I also agree that there was just SO MUCH going on. It didn't actually bother me while I was tearing through it, but after the fact I can look back and see how much stronger certain areas would have been if others hadn't been in there to dilute things.
Chachic: Okay, I just finished the book so I've gone through your comments. First off, I just wanted to say that I probably wouldn't have read Paper Valentine if it wasn't a YAckers pick, I'm really not a fan of horror books (or movies or even horror stories). Having said that, I was prepared to like this one because I've been hearing good things about Brenna Yovanoff's writing. Unfortunately, I found the whole thing just okay. Like you guys said, there was just TOO MUCH going on, I wasn't sure what the story's focus was. Plus the revelation about the killer(s) was kind of a letdown, I don't know why but I was expecting more. Like Heidi mentioned, maybe an explanation of all the toys and how that represented childhood. My reaction was mostly, "that's it?" I mean it couldn't have been that simple and easy to get away with several murders, right?
Melissa: Chachic, I know, right? It seemed too pat. Especially the end.
Chachic: Melissa, exactly. I also agree with what you said that the murders seemed too sophisticated for a high school boy.
Nicole: For those who have read The Replacement, how does it compare?
Sandy: I haven't gotten in too far (classes getting in the way...I'm also considering adding another course into my schedule -I'm a masochist!) BUT from what I've read so far...I like The Replacement more. But that could change...must read on..
Holly: Ok, I finished this earlier today and finally had a chance to read through all of the comments. I'm not really sure where to start with how I felt about Paper Valentine. The fact that I had 100 pages left and I wasn't looking forward to reading them says a lot. If I hadn't already made it that far and it wasn't a YAckers pick (how dare I miss two months in a row??) I would've felt perfectly fine at calling it a DNF. I didn't know much about Brenna Yovanoff before this except that she is one of the Merry Sisters of Fate, and anyone who is one of Maggie Stiefvater's exclusive critique partners should be taken seriously. I'm also not necessarily turned off by ghost stories, but how do I describe this mess of a book? I agree, Sya, Brenna (as I take a moment to admire the name, which is also the name of my daughter) was ALL OVER THE PLACE. There was no focus whatsoever, and the book obviously suffered from it. There were far too many ideas going on. If I had my pick I wanted it to be more of a murder mystery, especially after the serial killer "theme" is introduced. Call me morbid but I love me some Dexter or Barry Lyga. Sorry this is getting long, so can I just agree with everything negative that's been said? The lack of focus combined with my ambivalence towards Hannah (Melissa and Donna), annoyance of Lillian (Laura), the boring predictability of the cute little sister being targeted, both what'shisname and Connor being the suspects (Heidi), and the let down that was the last few pages of Brenna trying to conclude a scatter-brained book, to say Paper Valentine didn't work for me would be an understatement. End rant.
Chachic: I pretty much agree with what Holly said (I also didn't want to miss a discussion two months in a row) except that I did care a little bit about Hannah, just not enough to get past everything else that I didn't like about the book.
Laura: Man. I'm so disappointed. This makes the second Yovanoff book that has left me feeling blah and I LOVED The Replacement. With the small exception of the kid sister, there wasn't anyone likable in the entire story. Wait. That's not right. There wasn't a single character developed enough that I got to know them enough to like them. I mean really? When it was all said and done, we knew as much about these people as when we started. I couldn't even be shocked at Conner being the bad guy because, well *shrug* I didn't know him so I couldn't really give a shit. Lillian. Ugh. She seemed like a horrible friend...in both life and death and Hannah would have probably grown more as a person if she wasn't ever around. I couldn't stand her and other than being the reason for both Hannah's oddness and her angst...did she really contribute anything to the story? So there's all that, but my big thing is that NOTHING HAPPENED. We have a haunting.....and nothing really happens. We have a tiny romance....and nothing really happens (I DID feel it was instalove, even if they have known each other forever because they knew about as much about the other as WE did). We have mean girls...and nothing really happens (save for that tacky, tacky kiss). We have, well, just about everything, and nothing really happens. Boo. I went ahead and pictured the dad as hot, just because the story needed something and if we have to cast Richard Armitage in everything (even if it's horrible) we can let him play Decker. Oh and exactly what Holly said.
Chachic: LOL at Richard Armitage as Decker. I can't imagine him with a shaved head and tattoos.
Laura: Yes and what whoever said about the shrine to childhood and then nothing. I'm all like "Oh really? Do tell." and then it's never picked back up. Even when Conner was going on about it (yeah I pretty much skimmed his Dr. Evil moment too because it was DULL DULL DULL) I kept looking for some insight as to WHY. As that was the end of the story and there hadn't been a single, well-thought-out idea YET, I don't know why I was expecting it. Chachic oh I can. I can imagine him all kinds of ways.
Chachic: I'm sure you could, Laura.
Melissa: I do have to say, though, that my favorite part of the book was the showdown at the Dairy Queen. Sure, I've read it in a million books before (and probably better), but I was still all "YOU GO GIRL." I guess I really have something against mean girls.
Chachic: I liked that scene as well, Melissa. And now I want a Dairy Queen blizzard. Also, am I the only one who likes Hannah's dresses? I think it's cool that she makes her own designs and that she's very creative about them.
Donna: I'm wondering if Brenna works better in short story form based on the comments. Her works in The Curiosities was really good but I didn't find the same focus and depth here.
Heidi: The idea that an author can flush out more from her story/characters in a few pages than she can in a full length novel is pretty interesting, actually. Maybe the focus on the short page length forces her to cut out all the unnecessary crap and really develop? I do want to read The Curiosities still. And The Replacement for that matter.
Angie: You can't picture him with a shaved head and tattoos, Chachic? I picture him as Bran from Son of the Shadows all the time...
Heidi: Oh! And speaking of aspects of the story that never went anywhere/didn't need to be there, wtf was up with the dead birds?
Chachic: Angie, oooh Bran. Now that you pointed it out, he would make a good Bran indeed.
Sya: Firstly, yes to RA. Obvs. Secondly, I totally forgot about the birds! They kind of move this book from confused to just downright poor. I'd like to take certain aspects and write them into a better story. You could do a lot with Hannah's loss of a childhood friend and the murder scenes loss of childhood theme, not to mention her and Finny's easy resignation to the roles thrust upon them by others. I agree that the Conner aspect was ridiculous in light of the fact that he barely appears in the book. The writing style was actually pretty interesting but I think it's a case of style over content. I felt similarly about The Replacement where the writing was fantastic but the plot formulaic. I also find her characterisation in both her short stories and novels curiously cold and remote. I never particularly feel for the protagonists. Saying that, I've really enjoyed her shorter stuff. Also, Chachic, if you can't imagine Richard Armitage with a shared head and tattoos then you are, quite simply, NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH.
Melissa: I liked her dresses. And I thought the dead birds were there to place the story slightly in the past, you know, when we were all afraid of West Nile Virus. But even that was pointless because it never went anywhere. There was a good story in here, somewhere, I'm just not sure she ever really found it.
Holly: Melissa and Chachic, I did like her dresses at the beginning, but then I felt her personality never reflected her style. By the end I wished Hannah was as quirky as her wardrobe. What didn't help is that I read another YA contemp recently where the MC sewed her own clothes. I can't remember which one. I hope it's not becoming a trend.
Chachic: Holly, yeah, her dresses don't really reflect her style because she wants to give the image of being bright and happy even if that's not how she really feels. I guess it kind of represents her personality in the sense that she always says she's okay even if she's not. Does that make sense? I think I liked her dresses because they seemed distinct.
Holly: What I also realized about horror/paranormal in general is that I prefer more development and explanation behind the paranormal aspects. I think Paper Valentine will be most successful for the contemporary reader who likes a little bit of paranormal thrown in to keep things interesting. I don't want ghosts appearing randomly and haunting without reason. It seems kind of pointless to me if there's no compelling reason behind the haunting and if there's not a very clear explanation for why a ghost can finally rest in peace. I would've loved to see that happen with Lillian. And the dead birds? Another potential interesting plot point wasted. Ugh, this book. It frustrates me. I don't enjoy writing negative reviews but I may have to in this case for the proper healing to take place. Thank God I have you YAcks for venting and consoling purposes. True, Chachic. Her dresses reflect her desired image, or maybe the way she used to be before Lillian died. It would've been great if Hannah's emotional state was explored more. Or Lilian's anorexia. Or the ghosts. Or the murder investigation/serial killer theme. Brenna just needed to narrow down the issues in PV and concentrate on developing a few with more depth.
Sya: Yes, what Holly S Grierson said. Exactly.
Chachic: Yep, it would have been great if the book got to focus on a few key issues.
Donna: I just kind of thought, in regard to her dresses, that they were one of the last bastions of Lillian she had. Hannah doesn't strike me as someone that actually has her own personality and would more readily bend to the will of someone else. She dressed the way she did because of Lillian and she maintained at after her death because 1) she doesn't have her own personality and 2) it was that and that Alice bracelet she had that was left. Now that I think about it she didn't have much of an independent personality in any of the story. Even when she started biting back with her awful friends (seriously, how low is that girl's self esteem to keep friends like that?) by her own admission she was becoming Lillian. So yeah. Either she needs to find another overbearing bitch to mold her into something or find out who she really is.
...and at this point we all largely lost interest and started a new discussion on St. Clair. Because sometimes, you just have to do these things. More importantly, though, welcome to....
Who Would Richard Armitage Play
As you know, we cast him as Decker. Here is the EVIDENTIAL PROOF that he could carry the role:
Sadly, the general concensus on Paper Valentine was that, while positively brimming with potential, it was all a bit...meh. Read more of what some of us had to say below.
Melissa @ Book Nut
Chachic @ Chachic's Book Nook