A case of exorcizing old ghosts has turned into a stunning piece of historical fiction for young adult readers to devour with the release of Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn.
Based on a true-life crime, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls follows the story of Nora and her friends throughout the summer of 1956 when a horrific double-murder rocks their small town life and forces them into growing up too soon. Told in alternating perspectives, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls captures both the essence of adolescence and a distinct moment of American life with perfect clarity.
Hahn is already an established author for young adults, but with this book, she explores her own ghosts and by telling a fictionalized account of a true story, she gives readers an honest, gritty look at the ups and downs and in-betweens of growing up. Though set in 1956, Hahn shows that much of adolescence is universal no matter when or where you experience it.
But in telling a story from 1956, she also paints a distinct picture of a world that has changed dramatically. The life that Nora and the other characters lead is familiar, yet is distinguished by those characteristics so unique to that time period. Dressing for school means blouses and crinolines. After school entertainment means walking to the bookstore, lounging by the community pool, stopping in at the soda shop. Hahn has so perfectly captured this moment in time that her words bring it to life for the reader. When she describes Nora lounging on her bed as the fan stirs hot air, you feel that heat. You feel the sweat trickling down your neck.
The crime story that ties the book together is as haunting as you’d expect it to be. Reading this fictionalized account, it’s easy to see why Hahn has been haunted by this experience for so long (an Afterword goes into the back story and the true crime that inspired the book). It’s eerie, unsettling, and the ultimate outcome is as unsatisfactory as you’d expect it to be in real life. Hahn doesn’t use the book as a way to write the ending she wants; but rather, she uses the book to expel her thoughts and feelings and reactions — those she has now, and those she had back then. It’s honest and gritty and that’s what makes the book so compelling.
Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is set for release on April 17th, but may be in some stores now. Here is the official synopsis:
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.