Review: Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn
Release Date ~ April 17th
Clarion Books ~ HMH Books
ISBN13: 9780547760629
Review copy received from Thomas Allen & Son Ltd.
Goodreads 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.

Confession: I've had a longtime obsession with crime stories. I blame my family (and too much old A&E TV shows as a child, and maybe a few too many years of CSI more recently) for this. I'm fascinated by it. I'm horrified and disturbed at times. But there's nothing scarier than some of these real life stories.

Needless to say, Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls caught my eye for exactly this reason. And I think it was also because of this that led to my unfortunate disappointment with the book as a whole. It really wasn't the crime story I was hoping for, not at all.

  1. A coming of age story:
    I might have liked this book more if I had had a better idea that I was supposed to expect a coming of age story rather than a crime story. And it's a fascinating look at one turn of events that tragically impacted a large number of people. But our narrator, Nora, finds this stage of her life to be almost completely defined by this murder - it really does end up triggering a number of life changing decisions and realizations for her.
  2. The setting: 1950s small town:

    I absolutely loved the vintage feel of the book - from the pop culture, the little bits of fashion talked about, the ideas, the struggles, the societal changes, etc. It was fascinating for me to read about and a time period that YA doesn't typically feature.
The real problem with this book for me though was that it didn't feel like fiction. Instead, it felt more like a memoir which makes sense if you read the Acknowledgements of the book, where Mary talks about how this book was inspired by an event which actually happened to her as a teenager. And she lays out the truth of what happened - which is actually VERY, extremely close to what happens in the book. So rather than feeling like fiction, Mister Death read to me like (a biased) account of Mary's experiences with the murder of two teen girls she knew.

And normally this wouldn't be an issue. Except for when it comes to who the killer is - Nora has doubts that the ex-boyfriend, Buddy, killed the girls even though the entire town believes it was him. Mary explains how she has the same doubts, so this read to me (without seeing any real evidence of who committed the murders) as if this book was supposed to portray (what she believes to be) what ACTUALLY happened, even if no one believes it. Then the book was labelled as "fiction" in case anyone was upset by the message.

I'm not a fan of this. But regardless, I still felt like much of the book revolved around external experiences rather than the murder itself, which is why I wanted to warn you that it really isn't a crime story. After the murders occur, the story breaks off to Nora's life. About her relationship with boys, about her doubts regarding her faith, and growing up and losing friends. But I had a difficult time piecing it all together, and along with the numerous other points of view (there were 8 in total, I believe, including Nora's) made the story feel far too convoluted for me.

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Andrea @ Cozy Up said...

The synopsis definitely makes this out to be more of a crime story, which got me really interested. I'm disappointed to hear that it's not really about that and that it's more about the characters life and experiences. Thanks for the honest review

Hanna Nicole said...

one of the best books i have read this year but i think ints more of a teens book
but i would give it a 9 out of 10 so over all it was good i just wish i was more about the murder than the experances of the charecters

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