Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Rant: Mister Death's Blue-eyed Girls

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.

This was the last book I read this summer before going to law school, and I haven't read any fiction since. Because I'm a cheapskate, I started reading it at B&N, but it was so captivated that I ended up buying it about halfway through. So there. I'm doing my duty to the book industry.

I really enjoyed this book for reasons that other people apparently didn't enjoy the book. I always read Goodreads reviews before writing my own to see what others thought. People tended to complain about the book because they didn't get what they were expecting. The way the inside jacket is written (don't have it on hand) makes it seem like the book is either a thriller or a mystery. It's neither. It's solidly a coming-of-age story; very traditionally YA contemporary. Basically, it's a YA contemporary that happens to include a murder. The murder itself is important, but it's really a vehicle in which to explore Nora's religious crisis and loss of childhood innocence. This was great for me, because if this book actually turned out to be a mystery or thriller, I probably would've disliked it. Those (with notable exceptions) are really not my genres of interest.

If you read this book as a YA (literary) contemporary, I think it is hugely enjoyable. This is the work of a master. I am quite curious now to read Hahn's other books, because I think she's very good at writing beautifully while making complex themes read simply. To me, beauty of language is always a reason to read a book, no matter how crappy the plot is, so you can take my recommendation with a grain of salt if that's not you. To be fair, though, the plot here is interesting, if slow-moving.

People also didn't seem to like the fact that the book was set in the 1950s. I did, but I rarely read YA "contemporary" in a different time period. So that was a nice twist.

Certain reviewers noted it was odd that this is based on a true story, and it is essentially the author trying to come to terms with something pretty much identical that happened to her when she was young (growing up in the '50s). If you read it as simple fiction, it's fine. I don't know why people are so wound up with how much of a story is "true" and how much is not. Stop trying to psychoanalyze the author. I mean, LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green is blatantly based on his high school experience, but so what? Everybody should go read the author's note in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. It sums up nicely what I'm trying to say. Fiction is fiction. Don't read too much into it.

As a final note, just to warn without ruining anything, there is little resolution and the ending is potentially unsatisfying for people who dislike open endings.

(I am writing this post in Torts. Longest. Friday. Afternoon. Ever. Incidentally, we are doing our homicide unit in Criminal Law, and it made me think of this book.)


  1. When you get a moment, you'll have to update us on how life as a Law Student is. :)

    That said, I bought this book because it seemed interesting & I love the title and cover. My sister, who isn't really a reader, seemed interested in it in the book store, so I offered to buy it for her. She read it and liked it (though she did note the lack of resolution), and she's picky. And now you like it! So I'm looking forward to reading this.

    Also, I'm like you in that while beautiful writing itself can't carry a book, I still appreciate it and will read on if I love the writing itself.

    1. Yes, I forgot to mention that I love the cover too! It's gorgeous.