Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Genre: YA Suspense
Publication Date: April 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
ISBN-10: 0547760620 (Clarion Books)
ISBN-13: 978-0547760629 (Clarion Books)
Reviewed by: Macie
Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham’s junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties, friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is – are shaken or cast off altogether.
Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy’s guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent – the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove.
Told from several different perspectives, including that of the murderer,Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is a suspenseful page-turner with a powerful human drama at its core.
Quick & Dirty: A whole town is changed forever after two girls are killed in this 1950’s era thriller.
Opening Sentence: He opens his eyes. It’s still dark, way before dawn. He’d willed himself to wake at three a.m., and he’s done it.
This book was not what I was expecting based on the title. I honestly would have enjoyed it more if I had read the Afterword first, since I was expecting paranormal elements. The title comes from a poem by E.E. Cummings, and is adopted by the killer as a stand in for his name. The book is told from multiple third person perspectives, focusing mainly on Nora, and sometimes on Buddy, and occasionally on the murder, Mister Death. Through the different perspectives, we are able to see the story and characters as a whole, much like a mosaic.
The novel starts on the eve of the last day of junior year for Nora, Ellie, and Cheryl. The three girls, along with a younger friend, Bobbi Jo, go out to a party and get drunk. The next day, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo are dead. The reader knows only that the killer is someone named Mister Death, and that he has a personal vendetta against the two girls. The book continues on as Nora, Ellie, and the rest of their peers try to cope with the murder of two of their classmates. The prime suspect is Cheryl’s ex-boyfriend, Buddy, and he gets a few chapters to explain his side of the story. The whole town thinks Buddy is the killer, except Nora.
The whole novel is about how Cheryl and Bobbie Jo tears the life of so many people apart, and even decades later is still on the mind of their classmates. This novel deals with depression, fear, religion, and growing up on multiple levels shown through the different viewpoints of the characters. Nora wants to get past the murders, but those around her will either not let it go or talk about it to help ease her mind. Nora’s sections often are repetitive at the sentence level, and she struggles with the trauma that cannot be properly expressed.
The novel moves slowly with multiple chapters for single days. That was one thing I did not necessarily like was how slow the novel is until over halfway through it. We get to know Nora the best since she has the most chapters. Nora starts out a good, naive Catholic girl until her world is turned upside down by the deaths. She searches for answers and finds none that placate her. She tries new things that go against her Catholic upbringing like booze, making out, and reading new authors like Walt Whitman and T.S. Elliot. In a way, the deaths free her to try things she might never have discovered, especially the authors.
The other character who has multiple chapters is Buddy, the alleged killer. We learn from his first chapter that he did not kill the girls, which then leaves those to question who did. The town likes having Buddy as a scapegoat because he had a motive, and if he wasn’t the killer, then that means it could be anybody, and they had no other leads. We know that the murder is Mister Death, but his chapters do not have his real name. Buddy not only loses the girl he loves, but his whole town and family shun him for the rest of his life. He joins the Navy to escape the past. Nora talks to Buddy a few times, and we get to see Nora from a different perspective for the first time. I am glad that Nora does believe in Buddy’s innocence, even though it alienates her from everyone around her.
Overall, the book is well written, but just not what I expected. I would recommend this for anyone who is interested in thrillers and stories about growing up during a difficult time.
“What’s so special about Cheryl anyway?” I ask. “Why do boys like her so much? She’s not all that pretty. Her teeth are so big she looks like a chipmunk.”
We laugh again.
Ellie reminds me of the time Cheryl sneaked out of a slumber party and stayed out all night with Buddy.
I was there. I definitely remember.
“That’s why they like her,” Ellie says. “She pets and stuff.”
What exactly does petting mean, I wonder. Letting a boy touch your breasts or put his hand on your knee, maybe more. Stuff you’d have to confess, that’s for sure. But Cheryl’s not Catholic, she doesn’t have to tell a priest what she does with boys.
“What do you think she was doing with Ralph down in the woods last night?” Ellie asks.
We look at each other, wondering…
By now, the trees have closed in around us, silent in the morning coolness, their trunks tall and straight. Slants of sunlight knife down through the leaves and dapple the path.
Ellie tells me about a story she read in True Romance magazine. “The girl was a tease. She got a bad reputation and…”
While Ellie talks, I glance over my shoulder, suddenly alert to a difference in the silence. A rustling in the leaves, a branch snapping, a sense of being watched, just like last night.
I glance at Ellie. She’s fallen silent. Has she noticed something too?
A crow takes sudden flight from a branch. His alarmed cry sets of a chorus of caws from a dozen crows. They all fly up into the air and circle the treetops. A murder of crows, that’s what my English teacher calls them–a flock of sparrows, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows.
FTC Advisory: Clarion Books provided me with a copy of Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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