01 February 2014

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls (Mary Downing Hahn)

Mary Downing Hahn has been scaring the crapola out of middle-graders since my youth (Wait Till Helen Comes AUGH), but Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls, she says in her afterword, is "an attempt to exorcise some of my ghosts." It's a fictionalized exploration of a double murder that took place in her Baltimore suburb in 1955; two teenage girls Hahn knew slightly were shot in a park one early June morning, and the boyfriend of one of them hauled in for questioning. The police were unable to build a case against him, and he was released--but town opinion still considered him a killer, and the hatred drove him away. The murders were never officially solved.

She's chosen here to dramatize a similar story from several different perspectives: Nora, a casual friend of the murdered girls, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo; Buddy, Cheryl's ex-boyfriend, blamed for their deaths; excerpts from Cheryl's and Bobbi Jo's diaries; and the murderer himself, called only Mister Death (from the e.e. cummings poem), whose enigmatic menace shadows the whole book. It's marvelously done, raw and honest, exploring grief, suspicion, loss of faith. And it's rare to read a historical YA novel where the era is not the plot; these are 50s teenagers, living the particular lives of their time, but their feelings are timeless.

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