Valentine by Jodi McAlister

Traditional fairy lore is transplanted into a small-town Australian location in Jodi McAlister’s debut novel, Valentine, and given a thoroughly contemporary spin.

A frightening black horse appears at a seventeenth-birthday party and a guest goes missing. The girl happens to be one of four local teenagers who were all born on the same Valentine’s Day. This opening drama signals the beginning of a series of sinister occurrences in Haylesford: the appearance of unusual numbers of black animals, inexplicable illnesses, projectile rocks and further disappearances.

At the centre of the action are two of the other Valentine’s – highly reactive Pearl, and the object of her hate-lust, schoolmate Finn. After Pearl survives a life-threatening mystical coma with Finn’s help, the two teens attempt to get their heads around an incredible and dangerous puzzle that involves a fairy changeling, mistaken identity and warring fairy factions.

When so much urban fantasy comes to us from overseas, it’s refreshing to read a story containing so much that is recognisably Australian. Supernatural elements combine well with the stuff of ordinary teenage life: classes, homework, hook-ups, schoolyard politics, Facebook and smartphone use. A large cast of characters in Haylesford keeps suspicions accelerating and stakes high. I particularly liked the warm depiction of Pearl’s unconventional family life with her older brother and sister. This is one for readers aged 13 and over who love a fast-paced, high-energy story with romance, action, moderate amounts of gore and old-school scary fairy-folk.

Leanne Hall is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids. She is also the Grants Officer for the Readings Foundation.

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Jodi McAlister

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