I really need to go back and read Brenna Yovanoff's The Space Between, because somehow I never made time for it last year. Which is ridiculous, because I enjoy her so very much: her stories satisfy my weird, vaguely uncomfortable fascination with the macabre without coming off as sensationalized or exploitative. She also writes sensitively about difficult topics—in the case of Paper Valentine, about grief and eating disorders and the nature of sociopathy—but without getting maudlin, and with a good deal of dark humor.
It's been six months since Hannah Wagnor's best friend Lillian died, and Hannah is still reeling... but not for the reason you'd assume. No, Hannah's having a hard time letting go of Lillian because Lillian won't let go of her: she's been haunting Hannah ever since she died.
As Juliet Stevenson's character in Truly Madly Deeply could attest, being haunted by the ghost of a loved one—no matter how loved—is not a comfortable, comforting thing. For one thing, you're constantly faced with a reminder of your loss... and for another, even in death, your loved one still has all the obnoxious habits that drove you bananas when s/he was still alive.
On top of that, it's the hottest July on record (SUCH a treat to read about in January, for reals); Hannah's had a couple of moments with Finny Boone, the town's resident delinquent; and someone in Ludlow is murdering young girls. Lillian is convinced that it's a serial killer, and she wants to catch him. Dead or alive, Lillian gets what she wants... so, despite the danger, Hannah starts investigating.
Yay! I'm happy to say that Paper Valentine lives up to its lovely cover art. As I said above, it's got elements of the macabre (in addition to the murders and the ghost, birds are literally dropping dead—like, falling from the sky—due to an avian virus), but it's also, very much, a story about grief and about moving on (both the desire to and fear of).
Hannah and Lillian's friendship is appropriately complex; and as the story plays out, it's clear that their friendship was just as complex in life, but in different ways. Lillian was a Queen Bee-type, and her death affected the balance within their group of friends, but she is never simply a Queen Bee. Even in death, she's a believable, real, three-dimensional person, and Hannah is just as real and believable. They both have a lot going on under the surface—as you might imagine, Hannah, especially, is under a huge amount of pressure—and Yovanoff does a fantastic job of showing that through their actions, interactions, and emotions. Oh, and bonus points for Hannah's creative side: the descriptions of her homemade clothing (not to mention the FANTASTICALLY WONDERFUL decoupage project that shows up in the last third) are super.
While I'm talking about characters, of course, I can't forget to mention FINNY BOONE, who I suspect will walk away from this book trailed by a whole parade of fangirls. The Bad Boy/Good Guy type IS ridiculously difficult to resist. He's a little bit of a stock character—Hulking Brooder Who's Been Hurt In The Past, Is Great With Kids, And Is Very Protective Of Those He Cares About—but he's still pretty irresistible.
As for the mystery component, the solution totally surprised me in the best sort of way: when I thought back, I realized that there'd been clues, and that I'd (SHOCKINGLY) just missed them. And along those same lines, I had no complaints about Hannah's detective technique: she made connections fast and acted on them quickly, and while she took chances, they weren't stupid or unnecessary ones.
Thumbs up, obviously.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.