Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

It's the last day of school in 1956, and Nora and her friends are looking forward to summer.  Then the unthinkable happens.  In Nora's quite little suburban town where nothing ever happens, two girls have been shot and killed.  In the park.  In daylight.  And they were girls Nora knew.  The entire town breaks apart and the blame falls on one of the girls' ex-boyfriend, who swears he's innocent.

This was really heavy.  It's based on a true event that Mary Downing Hahn lived through in June of 1955.  While Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is fictional, it pulls heavily from Hahn's own memories of that time, which she has never forgotten.  She talks a bit about the actual event at the end of the book and how she wanted to write about it for a long time.

The evening before the shooting there was a party and all the high school kids are together having a great time.  The next day two girls, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, have been shot and killed in the park.  Cheryl's ex-boyfriend Buddy is accused of the crime.  Everyone in town is sure he did it.  Nora is not so sure, however.  It difficult for her to voice this though, because everyone else is so certain.

After the death of the girls, the book more deeply explores two things: Nora's depression and how people treat someone who's been accused of a crime.  Even though Nora wasn't close friends with either of the girls, she's incredibly affected by their deaths.  She loses her faith in religion - why would God let a thing like this happen?  She's freaked out knowing that if she and Ellie hadn't overslept and missed walking to school with Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, they'd probably be dead too.  Most of all, it's the fact that the world she always imagined has been shattered.  She is not safe, she never was safe and she can never feel safe again.  There's no way to protect herself or the people she cares about from the bad things in the world.  Nora feels alone in these thoughts.  Everyone else seems to be fueled by either their faith in God, which Nora no longer has, or their anger at Buddy, who Nora doesn't think killed the girls.  Nora sinks in to depression, not eating, not wanting to leave her house.  It's the 50s, and depression as a result a traumatic event wasn't common knowledge.  People become frustrated with Nora because she's not moving on.

Buddy is accused of the murders immediately.  All Cheryl and Bobbi Jo's friends saw how angry he'd been at the party the night before.  And then the next day they're dead.  He's an obvious target.  After several days of questioning, he's released.  There's no evidence against him at all.  The town, however, doesn't care about this.  They've decided that Buddy is the killer, and now he's a killer who's going to get away with it.  Buddy is shunned and at times physically attacked.  He ends up joining the Navy to get away.  This event stays with him his entire life, however.  How could it not?

The book is told in the voice of Buddy and Nora, but there's a third prospective as well.  It is the voice of the actual killer.  The actual killer is also a high school student, one no one ever notices.  He killed them because they had made fun of him, and they deserved it.  The killer never feels any remorse over the girls' deaths, and he is never caught.

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls comes out April 17, 2012.

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