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

For those who have been familiar with Mary Downing Hahn as the author of such mid-1990s kids’ scare fare as The Doll in the Garden, which was a personal childhood favorite of mine, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls will be quite a surprise. Whether that is a good or a bad surprise depends heavily on what kind of reader you are and whether you want a “typical” Mary Downing Hahn experience in reading this book. For me, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls was an immensely good surprise, a read that was full of the atmospheric creepiness that Hahn does so well blended into a murder story with decidedly more adult, thoughtful themes. Though WCPL shelves this as young adult, I think it could just as easily fit into adult fiction; likewise, it has a mystery sticker, and although there are mystery elements, it is a coming of age story more than anything else.

It’s 1956, and Nora Cunningham’s eleventh-grade year is drawing to a close. She and her friends Ellie, Cheryl, and Bobbi Jo are excited about what the summer will bring and full of hope for the new school year to follow. But when Bobbi Jo and Cheryl are shot to death on the way to the last day of school, it rocks their small Baltimore suburb and its residents in ways they never could have predicted. Everyone’s obsessed with bringing the killer to justice… but who is the killer? And can the teenagers who have survived this incident manage to piece their lives back together? Told mostly through Nora’s eyes with additional perspectives from other characters, this is a wonderful story of what violent loss does to a community. Hahn is an absolute master at depicting late-teen pathos and religious doubts through Nora; whether you agree with Nora’s ultimate conclusions on these topics or not, her inner monologue is entirely relatable, and Hahn makes sure to include many different perspectives on these issues from multiple characters so that no reader will feel that their viewpoint is not respected.

If you like stories about small towns and the people who live in them, or if you like coming of age stories or murder mysteries, or hey, if you loved Hahn’s work when you were a kid and want to get a peek into what she’s been up to recently, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is a wonderful, fast-paced pick with characters that practically jump off the page at you.

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