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“I have this sudden itch that maybe sometimes the people who are mean to you wind up on the other end of it more than you’d think,” Hannah. —Paper Valentine
by Brenna Yovanoff
In the last six months, Hannah’s life has been turned upside down because Hannah’s best friend Lillian died and is now haunting her. Not only is Hannah struggling to understand the self-destructive behavior that led to Lillian’s death, but she is also grappling with changes in her elite friend group. When Hannah runs into bad boy Finny, she can’t decide if she should stay away from the boy with a bad reputation or if she should explore her growing attraction to him.
Then, when someone begins murdering young girls and leaving behind paper valentines, Lilian’s ghost encourages Hannah to look into the crimes. As Hannah discovers gruesome details about the murders, the ghosts of the dead girls begin appearing. But why do they appear when Finny is near? And by investigating, is Hannah making herself a target for the murderer?
Over the course of the book, Hannah struggles with depression and dealing with the death of Lillian. To make matters worse, Lillian has changed in death. Lillian criticizes Hannah for spending time with her friends, even though they were Lillian’s friends when she was alive. Lillian is mean to Hannah and says things like, “Hannah doesn’t like to live in real life. Hannah just wants to pretend that we all live in happy fairy-land, where everyone is super-best friends and no one is a heinous bitch and nothing bad is ever going to happen.” Although much of Hannah’s behavior seems week, she is like many teenagers who struggle with wanting to fit in.
Paper Valentine does an excellent job showing the complexities of people. Although most people think Finny is just a delinquent, he also has a streak of kindness. Hannah is able to look past Finny’s ‘bad boy’ image and see his good side. In addition, Hannah realizes that she and Lillian, “were always trying so hard to be perfect . . . when the funny thing was, we didn’t have to.”
Paper Valentine bounces from topic to topic, including the desire to be perfect, depression, eating disorders, child abuse, and ghosts. None of the topics are dealt with in detail and will leave the readers with unanswered questions. The conclusion was predictable, typical, and lacks insight into the mind of the killer. Those looking for an excellent murder mystery may want to bypass Paper Valentine. Despite its flaws, Paper Valentine is an enjoyable, unique story that junior high readers will enjoy. Paper Valentine is a fast-paced story that has a bit of a scare factor due to the ghosts. Readers will enjoy looking for clues to discover the murderer, and Hannah and Finny have some sweet moments.
- While watching the news, someone makes a comment about the news correspondents. “I bet they make out like hyenas as soon as Jim Dean starts giving the weather report.”
- A boy that Hannah knows “used to go out with Lillian in junior high and now sometimes made out with Angelie.”
- A boy at school would “grab girls around the waist when they walked by his table in the cafeteria last year and say things like, ’Want to sit on my lap and talk about the next thing that pops up.’”
- When Hannah picks out some lipstick, she’s afraid her friend will think the “colors are perfect for a disco-clown hooker.”
- When Hannah thinks of pressing her hips against Finny, “the thought of this is electric, beating in my chest like a birthday wish, dark and warm and secret.”
- Finny and Hannah kiss several times. The first time, Finny “bends his head and kisses me, just once, then lets me go. When Connor would kiss Angelie in the halls last spring, he did it like he was trying to suck the chocolate off the outside of a Klondike bar. It could last hours. This is more like seeing a star fall—thrilling and soundless and then over.”
- When Finny kisses Hannah a second time, “his tongue brushes the curve of my bottom lip, grazing the hollow underneath, and something leaps and fidgets in my chest. . . I want him to never stop.”
- When Hannah goes to Dairy Queen, a girl she knows was “leaning against the side of the little brick building, frantically kissing Austin Dean.”
- A boy asks, “Hey, do you think if I bleached my hair and started vandalizing street signs or something, Carmen would let me near those exquisite titties?”
- While in a public place, Hannah kisses Finny so that her friends will see. “He doesn’t react right away, but then his hands move to my hips.”
- When someone was bothering Hannah, Finny came to her aid. “Finny had Connor by the collar of his shirt and was holding him so their foreheads were almost touching, but he didn’t say anything. He just leaned over me while Connor yanked on Finny’s wrist, trying to get loose. . . With his hand on the back of Connor’s neck, Finny held Connor away from me. . .”
- Hannah talks about the murder of Monica Harris. “One of the city garbage collectors found her out in the parking lot behind the Bowl-A-Rama in her pink polyester jacket, beaten dead with a piece of two-by-four and her own ice skates.”
- Hannah looks at the crime scene photos and sees, “Her face is shockingly white—dead white—and there are dark finger-shaped bruises all over one shoulder. In the blue evening light, the bruises look black. Almost as black as the blood that’s splashed in the weedy grass around her.” The photo is described over five paragraphs.
- When Finny was younger, a dog bit off his finger. He also has cigarette burns on his back. The abuse is not described.
- While in elementary school, Hannah was mean to Finny, and he washed her face with snow. “The snow was weeks old, crusty with ice, and when he scrubbed my face with it, the crystals were so sharp they made me bleed.”
- A boy is in foster care because “his dad was using him for a punching bag.”
- Hannah and a group of people find a dead body. “I’m looking into the face of a girl, and there’s blood in her hair and splashed down the side of her neck. There’s a smell. . . Her face is pale blue in the light. . .” The scene is described over three paragraphs.
- The murderer tries to kill Hannah. “He turns and grabs me by the shoulders, slamming me hard against the wall of the bridge. . . When I try to squirm away, prying at his fingers with my free hand, he gives me a shake that nearly pops my shoulder out of its socket. . . That’s when he slaps me. . .” The murderer hits Hannah’s head with something heavy. She is injured but survives. The scene takes place over a chapter.
Drugs and Alcohol
- A shop owner “runs off prints of scowling tattooed drug dealers and drunk, disorderly frat boys standing against a dirty wall outside one of the college bars.”
- The Qwick-mart has “smashed beer bottles” on the ground outside.
- Hannah remembers when Lillian was younger and “took that bottle of Sour Apple Pucker from her mom’s liquor cabinet, and we drank it in the back of her garage.”
- Lillian thinks her mother, “spent the last three years drinking a perfectly decent chardonnay on the couch and waiting for me to stop being so dramatic.”
- Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bastard, bitch, crappiest, damn, fuck, goddamn, pussies, hell, shit, shitty.
- Thank god, Jesus, and God are used as exclamations. For example, Hannah’s friends tell her, “God, you’re such a weenie sometimes.”
- Finny tells someone, “Don’t be a douche.”
- Ghost Lillian calls a boy a pervert.
- When a girl’s thong is showing, someone says, “Damn! That is just too much ass for those jeans!”
- Finny took a stolen bracelet away from a boy and gave it back to Hannah. When she asks if the boy was mad, Finny replies, “Do I give a shit? He can fucking deal with it! I told him that maybe he’s free to act like a total dick any other time, but not to girls and little kids. Not when he’s with me.”
- Hannah’s friend is a ghost. Hannah narrates, “Ghosts are the kind of thing you go your whole life with everyone telling you they aren’t real. I believe in them anyways, because the world is full of things that no one actually understands. Mostly though, I believe in them because my best friend died six months ago and now she’s with me all the time, materializing silently out of the shadows, creeping closer, reaching out.”
- Several times, Hannah uses an Ouija board to talk to the spirits of the murdered girls.
- The murderer tells Hannah, “As far as those little bitches knew, I was God.”