Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Because what's a better pick one week after the most lovey-dovey holiday in the Western world than a story about psychotic murders and ghosts haunting their former BFFs, am I right?

I was a little hasty on BookLikes - one of my updates says there is slut-shaming on the very first page - which I probably shouldn't have posted because, as it turns out, our main character has a tendency to describe everything in minute detail and it wasn't any commentary on her sister. My apologies for that.

"Paper Valentine" is about a girl named Hannah, who is being haunted by the ghost of her best friend Lillian. Lillian died of anorexia six months ago and is still hanging around, being by turns loving and bitchy, but mostly easy to ignore. Things change, though, when a series of murder occur in the neighborhood, and suddenly Lillian is not the only ghost asking Hannah for help. But how much can one ordinary girl do?


Here's the thing - if I had to find a literary equivalent to this book, it would be Laurie Halse Anderson's "Wintergirls" crossed with a supernatural murder mystery. If that's a ringing endorsement to you, great. But I'm not sure it worked.

See, "Wintergirls" is a pretty loaded book - watching Leah deal with survivor's guilt and anorexia at the same time is enough to carry on a full story. "Paper Valentine" starts off on a similar premise - Hannah is reeling from the death of her best friend and, understandably, feels quite a bit of guilt. (It doesn't help to have the real Lillian literally hanging over her shoulder.) But, again, this story where a girl is struggling to cope with her friend's death, a friend who died of an eating disorder no less, is enough to stand on its own. Meshing it with a murder mystery drags the whole thing down.

Case in point - Hannah doesn't actively get involved in the investigation until about halfway through the book. Before, she gets glimpses of it, and Lillian makes noises about it, but the click just doesn't come until after 50% in. That's a lot of book.

I still read it under 3 hours, though. I can't deny it - Brenna Yovanoff's writing is engaging. All 3 books of hers that I've read, I've powered through, even though all three were a little muddled in the plot department. The only explanation I have is that her characters keep me in place.

And they do.

Especially Finny, what with his "How do I do emotions?" (Maybe it's the bleached hair. I have a thing for guys with bleached hair. Three guesses as to what my favourite Buffy ship is.) I admit, his conflict also felt a little shoved in, especially since he was the one telling Hannah off for not showing her true emotions towards the start of the book. (Or maybe that was intentional?) At times, when I read his scenes with Hannah, I had a strange feeling, like the scene had been written on its own and then inserted into the text. There was backstory that was missing, and the transitions felt a bit off. I don't know why.

Maybe it could have used another round of edits. 

What I really liked about this book, though, was the dynamic between Hannah and Lillian. Hannah wasn't just trying to reconcile with ghostly Lillian - she's also trying to reconcile with her best friend as-she-used-to-be with the person she became after the eating disorder really sank its fangs into her. Unlike "Wintergirls" (or even "Skinny") this is a story about anorexia as told from the point of view of a bystander who has no idea what is going on in the head of the anorexic, who cannot even begin to imagine what it's like for them.

Hannah is naturally confused and angry with Lillian - because she doesn't understand, and because she feels like she failed some test that she had no chance of winning to start with. And that... rings true. It's an important perspective to explore, even though, as Lillian says, she didn't have any choice about it. It's a compulsive behaviour that is unreasonable to anyone but the sufferer, and it's extremely hard to break.

I'd read this book for that dynamic alone. I'd read it just for the sake of having these two characters have this conversation.

And, maybe, I'd also read it because it has cute bad boys with bleached hair.

I am that shallow sometimes.

Note: image via Booklikes

Another note: I'm running to raise money for a young people's mental health charity. Check out my page, make a donation, spread the word - whatever you can do, every little bit helps!

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