Posted Feb. 16, 2013
By Brenna Yovanoff
By VANESSA RAMOS
Brenna Yovanoff’s novel “Paper Valentine” is riddled with all the emotional angst one would expect to find in a young adult fiction. Somewhere in between the laundry list of cliché scenes of high school drama, forbidden love and shopping, lies a typical murder mystery.
“Paper Valentine” tries to make its reader understand the difficulties of adolescence through its tortured soul of a protagonist, Hannah Wagner. Yes, the girl is being haunted by the ghost of her dead best friend while her town of Ludlow is plagued by a psychotic serial killer, but Yovanoff’s melodramatic prose makes it difficult to sympathize with Hannah as a narrator.
Especially when Hannah talks about her bad boy of a love interest who just got out of juvie and spends most of his time in detention. But according to Hannah, it’s okay because he “gets” her and makes her feel safe. With over-dramatic lines like, “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,” Yovanoff makes Hannah’s character seem more desperate than deep.
The constant use of generalities and exaggerations make Hannah an unreliable narrator and adds to the melodrama that makes the entire story feel cliché. She says things such as, “The next week is probably the longest of my life,” and “She was cold all the time and always wanted to hug me,” and “She was always talking about all the times that people had told her she was wise beyond her years.”
“Paper Valentine” is Yovanoff’s third book. Her other young adult fantasy fiction novels, “The Replacement” and “The Space Between” were released in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Yovanoff holds an MFA in fiction from Colorado State University and is an active blogger. Visitors to her blog, brennayovanoff.com/posts/ will find short stories, entries about food, writing, high school, and her personal life. Yovanoff also contributes flash fiction to the website, www.merryfates.com along with writers Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton.
Young Adult fantasy fiction has become increasingly popular in the past years, especially since the “Twilight” series throttled the genre into the limelight. The books in this genre tend to include themes that appeal to teen and pre-teen readers, such as romance, high school, and of course, supernatural and fantastical entities. Many of these types of stories focus on characters who view themselves as strange or different from their peers. The “nobody understands me” theme resonates with teen readers who are struggling with fitting in at school.
“Paper Valentine” covers issues that many teens, particularly girls, face such as bullying and even eating disorders. However, these issues are shadowed by the melodramatic tone that Yovanoff instills throughout the story, making it difficult to relate to. This is also evident in the cliffhanger at the end of almost every chapter. Yovanoff chooses to crassly tack on a cryptic sentence at the end of a paragraph, but all it does is create a sense of desperation. It’s as though Yovanoff s trying to tell her readers, “Look at how dark and creepy this story is!” but the attempt falls flat.
The chapter titles don’t do anything to help the cause. In fact, the book would have been better off without cheesey chapter names like “The Dead Girl” and “Fashionable” and “Grounded.” These make the story feel forced as though Yovanoff is trying to show her audience that she understands what it’s like to be a teen girl, but the effort once again feels trite.
Being that Yovanoff’s story is fantasy, the reader must suspend some sense of reality and accept that Hanna’s world is one filled with the ghosts of dead girls. The crime aspect of the story comes off as a bit unrealistic, but it works to keep the reader guessing until the end of the book.
Overall, “Paper Valentine” offers a few moments of suspense, but there is nothing in this story that will keep readers up at night. It is mainly a quick and somewhat engaging whodunit story, where the most exciting part is trying to figure out who the actual serial killer is. Parents of younger readers should note that “Paper Valentine” does contain some violence and crude language.
- “Paper Valentine”
- By Brenna Yovanoff
- Razorbill/Penguin Group, New York, N.Y.
- Hardcover $17.99, eBook $10.99
- Published Jan. 8, 2013
- 304 pages
- Rating: Two stars out of five