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.
Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is a period novel that takes place in the 1950s. It’s a quietly moving novel about two girls who are murdered, the circumstances surrounding the crime, and the effect that the aftermath has on a small town, friends of the girls, and a victim’s former boyfriend.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints and includes diary entries. It’s not a unique format but it really works in this book, as the thoughts of Nora and Ellie in the wake of their friends’ deaths is fascinating. It’s really interesting to watch Nora struggle against her religious faith as Ellie turns to God, and see what happens when they disagree about who is guilty of the crime.
To me, though, the most interesting character of all was Buddy. Buddy is one of the victims’ former boyfriends, and since he is a bit of a street tough and was dumped by Bobbi Jo (not to mention he was heard threatening her in public) nearly everyone in town thinks that he’s guilty even though there’s evidence showing otherwise. He’s actually the most sympathetic character and the most layered, as we get to know his real feelings in the wake of the murders. The real murderer also has a voice in the book, albeit a much smaller one than the other kids. In fact, he’s kept on the periphery and somehow becomes the least important person in the book. It seems like that shouldn’t work, but it does. He’s really not all that interesting a character (and that’s by design, I think, to keep the focus on the others).
I really liked the fact that the book ends with the story many years after the fact, and we get some resolution as readers. Kind of like a “where are they now.” This almost never happens in books and I felt that it was really warranted here. I know a lot of people like open ended books where you just have to imagine what happens to the characters, but I’m not one of them.
This is a book that raises difficult questions and doesn’t really give a lot of easy answers. There’s no satisfaction to be found here. That said, it’s quite a moving book and a really engrossing read. When you consider that this is a piece taken from the author’s real life, it becomes even sadder and more chilling.