As we get older we learn to adjust to the inevitability of life. You live. You die. And somewhere in-between you become addicted to ridiculous things like ice cream or expensive shoes. We lose someone, we pay our condolences and we cope with it. Life moves on.
But loosing someone as a teenager is different. That loss effects you for the rest of your life. It may not be on the top of your head every waking hour of the day, but there are those sad moments when it comes flooding back to you in technicolor. Reminding you that life is sometimes horribly unfair and unforgivably tragic.
When this loss is the result of a murder, the whiplash is astounding.
In “Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls”, Mary Downing Hahn take a TRUE and very sad (personal) event that happened to her as a teenager, morphs it into a work of fiction and then feeds it to her audience from the eyes of everyone involved. Closure may have been the intended purpose when she first decided to write this novel, but in the end what I think she really found was peace.
“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.”
When you first open this book you are assaulted with the truth. There’s no second guessing. No hope of a better outcome. No denying what is going to happen. People are going to die, and you are getting it straight from the cat’s mouth. This is the truly interesting thing about Blue-eyed Girls. Downing Hahn’s choice to let the reader in on the secret before it even becomes one.
I am not usually a fan of multi-perspective narration. Duel narration? Great. I like to read both sides of the story (makes for an interesting battle in my head.) But adding more than 2 voices can get complicated. Especially when it comes to YA literature. Why? Because they usually lack the character development to pull it off. But in “Blue-eyed” Downing Hahn takes a short-cut and lucky for her…hit pay-dirt.
Instead of developing several characters REALLY well she focus on 3 (including the killer) and then fills in the blanks with journal entries or letters from the supporting cast (ding ding..the multiple perspectives.) Each has something very solid and valid to add, but doing so in such in informal manner allowed the story to be told from several angles without adding too much stock on back-stories and family histories (of the more minor cast of characters.) It also provided breathing room for Buddy and Nora to grow. Their growth, anger, sadness and fear are the backbone of this story.
This is not your everyday mystery. You know who the killer is, therefore he becomes insignificant. He is a sidebar in his own story. An itch that you know will never be scratched. What this story is really about is the knee-jerk reaction a person’s personality and life goes through after a tragic event. Everyone has a different reaction. Their own personal way of handling the windfall of death and accusation, and these actions (the actions of Nora and Buddy) are what fill this story out. What makes it read as real as it probably felt for the author who lived through it.
The story is a sad one. A quickly delivered sad one, but a sad one all the same. And as with all sad books comes with a very important lesson, one for the reader and one for the author:
Death is about acceptance, forgiveness and the ability to see past it even when it scares you.
Not a book for everyone, but some might find it interesting. I say read a sample and decide if you like it’s unique rhythm before you decide to buy.
Happy reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: Sometimes you just need someone to be there…so the dark isn’t quite so big.
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