Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff (Razorbill, YA, Jan, 2013). It is always hard to wake everyone else up and go to work...but when that time came, after a solid hour of reading, I was so deeply immersed in this story that it was almost torture. Sigh. Happily my son had a half day, so 11:30 saw me back on the sofa, zipping through the last sixty pages....
No, this was not the escapist middle grade fantasy fun that I so often enjoy. It was a dark YA, whose main character, Hannah, is haunted (pretty much 24/7) by the ghost of her best friend Lillian who died from anorexia six months before--it is an unwholesome relationship, but Hannah cannot end it (nb--there is no pussy-footing around the terribleness of Lillian's death by anorexia).
As if that were not dark enough, Hannah's town is now home to a serial murderer--girl after girl is being found bashed to death, each with a paper valentine left by the killer. Hannah, already ghost-haunted, finds that she and the dead girls are drawn to each other...and (with constant interruptions, comments, and advice from ghostly Lillian, who's tormented in her own way) Hannah tries to unravel the mystery of their deaths.
(Although Hannah actually finds the killer by coincidence, not by supernaturally-assisted sleuthing skills (the ghosts never do communicate anything all that useful), and the resolution of the murders is something of an anti-climax. Just saying, in case mystery lovers end up feeling disappointed, which is very possible).
And in the meantime, Hannah falls in love--with a boy who's been labeled bad and dangerous all his life, but who actually turns out to be one of the sweetest boys in YA literature (I can't think of any other teenage boys shown affectionately looking after the baby their aunt's fostering), and it's not a love triangle situation, or too much of a Big Deal Plot Element, but rather it's a looking past years of stereotyping into the real person situation, and all very genuine and nicely done (once the sight improbability of them hooking up in the first place is over with. And why did he have to be wearing a wife-beater the first time we meet him?)
Not only did I appreciate the warm fuzziness of this relationship, and the tension of whether it would work out or not, but Hannah has a great 12 year old little sister who I liked very much.
So in short--a dark ghost filled mystery story, that is not just the unravelling of what the serial killer is up to, but the unravelling of what went wrong for Lillian, and a close examination of her years of friendship with Hannah. It is very much a character development book--the murders give Hannah a chance to move forward. What with Lillian's ghostly presence, she's been in a position of forced passivity for months, and the murders serve as a catalyst for her to define herself as a person, and get out from under the skeletal shadow of Lillian.
I was rather pleased with how much I enjoyed it. I have not been enjoying much YA sff lately, and was afraid I was getting stuck in a MG rut, so I'm glad to know that I can still love reading a dark, edgy YA!
(At least, I think it's edgy? Maybe real readers of dark edgy YA would find it a unicorn kitten book????)
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher