Release Date: April 17, 2012
Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tomorrow will be the last day of Nora’s junior year. Nora heads for the party in the park, laughing and chatting with her friends, eager to leave her usual quiet, careful self behind. Other kids are drinking beer, flirting, pairing off, dancing. Even the hostile presence of a jealous ex-boyfriend can’t spoil the fun.
In a few hours, though, Mister Death will make his move. Nora hasn’t yet seen his shadow, but we know he’s getting ready. He’s the man who isn’t there, the man no one notices, and he has a rifle. And he’s going into the dark woods to use it.
Nora and her classmates and their town will find out about him soon enough.
Tell Me More: The last time I remember being terrified from reading a synopsis alone was when my father handed me a copy of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. (Vampires–the really scary ones–and I do not mix.) Hinting at the horror that is about to unfold, the cover copy sets the tone for this intense story about everything that can go wrong between life and death.
Mary Downing Hahn’s narrative is flawless. It makes one’s chest ache with the sheer beauty of the prose, the melody of the words. You can almost touch the sad desperation of Buddy Novak as he fights back against damning accusations; Nora is insightful and perceptive, too perceptive for her age.
Murder happens far away, in cities or desolate places. It happens to strangers and you say how sad, how awful, and then a commercial comes on and that’s that, you forget. You watch I Love Lucy and laugh, you watch Gunsmoke and Matt Dillon catches the killer before the show is over. You go up to bed before the news comes on to remind you of the woman’s body found in an alley. You fall asleep in your safe little house, and you know all your friends are sleeping in their safe little houses and you’ll see them as school tomorrow. And you forget the woman in the alley who will never sleep in her safe little house again.
But not this. You won’t forget this. It will be a part of you forever. This day…this day will never end.
Beneath each line lies a pulse–this story is alive in all the best ways, but it required bravery to write and it requires bravery to read. Hahn does not shy away from the intensity of the events that are unfolding, but she does find the humanity in every character and highlights it. I loved that aspect of the story, and I think it elevates Mister Death from simply being a mystery to a powerful commentary on perspective and justice.
The most stark character parallels can be drawn between Nora and Buddy, whose role in the murder of his ex-girlfriend and another girl is contested even 20, 30 years after the event. Both of them ask questions of the world that are never truly answered, and both of them suffer an immense amount of guilt related to the murders. Hahn’s choice to employ multiple points-of-view lets the story play with a different narrative dynamic and allows readers to draw their own conclusion about each person. In a way, the reader is judge and jury of this case, and that responsibility mirrors what the characters experience.
Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is a book that questions what we think we know, and whether we have the courage to fight for that knowledge. It asks us to consider all sides, to face our bias and to make up for the damning assumptions we accept about other people. In light of the extreme violence that has plagued “civilized” society lately, this book will not please everyone. It will turn people off and disturb their sensibilities. It will make people uncomfortable and reluctant to add to the discussion about justice. But I firmly believe that books like these have the ability to help us shove off assumptions and lies and focus on the search for truth and justice, for honesty and love in a world that grows more terrifying by the second.
The Final Say: Looking for a mystery that will not only make you think but examine the lives we have been conditioned to lead? Mary Downing Hahn proves that she is a powerful force in YA literature with Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls, which will shock, scare and inspire.
Mary Downing Hahn, a former children’s librarian, is the award-winning author of many popular ghost stories, including Deep and Dark and Dangerous and The Old Willis Place. An avid reader, traveler, and all-around arts lover, Ms. Hahn lives in Columbia, Maryland, with her two cats, Oscar and Rufus.