Synopsis: 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, and 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.
Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story.
Its been a really long time since I read a book by Mary Downing Hahn but when I was younger I used to devour all her middle grade ghost stories. I was always fascinated by how easily she could scare the crap out of me and still keep me glued to the page. I think the same thing can be said about her new YA novel but instead of using a scare tactic to pull the reader in, it's the story's raw emotion that will grab you.
Although the novel is told through the eyes of several different characters, including Buddy and Mister Death (the killer), you spend most of your time with Nora. Nora is an empathetic character who is easy to care about. Her internal struggle to deal with her friend's death is really what drives the novel forward and if you don't feel a connection with Nora it's likely this novel just isn't going to work for you.
The novel has a slow pace which I think works well in showing how the characters and town deal with the crime's aftermath. This is NOT a crime novel but rather a coming-of age story built around a tragedy with some mystery elements thrown in. I think the 1950's small town setting adds a lot of intensity and atmosphere to Nora's own belief that bad things only happen to other people who live somewhere else.
When I first picked up Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls I was only vaguely aware that it was based on an actual crime, as well as the author's own personal experience of that event. I think this fact adds greatly to the emotional depth of the story. You can feel the author's emotions leaking through the page and the weight of the story seems to have a greater importance.
I was really surprised by just how much I enjoyed this book. Though it is heartbreaking, I do think the novel has something important to say about how people deal with tragedy. The novel is likely to only attract people who like coming-of age stories or historical fiction, but I do hope it finds a larger audience.