Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—The night before what promises to be a long, hot, and probably boring summer, Nora and her best friend, Ellie, go to an end-of-the-school-year party. The girls, along with their friends Cheryl and Bobby Jo, stride into the park in their short shorts and Keds for an evening of listening to Elvis Presley, drinking first beers, and exchanging sloppy kisses in the dark. In the morning Nora and Ellie, nursing first-time hangovers, decline to walk with Cheryl and Bobby Jo, but finish their breakfasts instead. But as the day goes on the girls wonder where their friends are-they never showed up at school. Finally, their whereabouts are revealed when a group of classmates bolt out of the woods near the park yelling, "They're dead!" This haunting novel alternates narrators to give voices to naïve 17-year-old Nora; the mysterious perpetrator of this hideous crime who dubs himself "Mister Death" (in homage to e.e. cummings); Cheryl's ex, Buddy Novak, whom everybody suspects; and even the dead girls themselves (via journal entries). This creepy tale slowly and craftily builds tension. Definitely a scary novel, it has the added feature of offering a unique snapshot of life in the 1950s.—Tara Kehoe, Plainsboro Public Library, NJ
Publishers Weekly
In a gripping story all the more chilling for its roots in a real-life crime that touched Hahn's (The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall) life, two Maryland teenage girls are murdered on their way to school in 1956. The author skillfully threads together the voices of several individuals affected by the tragedy. The predominant voice is that of 16-year-old Nora, a friend of the victims who realizes that "Nothing is what it used to be. It will never be the same again." Frightened and confused, Nora questions her Catholic faith ("Why does God let horrible things happen to people?), grapples with her insecurities ("Not stylish. Not pretty") and her fears ("Hell. Death. Especially death. But also sex"). She cautiously befriends Buddy, the boy who everyone else believes killed the girls. Buddy and the actual murderer contribute to the narrative, which also includes excerpts from the murdered girls' diaries and references to period films, music, and fashion. This wrenching novel offers an aggregate portrait of the effects of loss and grief, including both the strengthening and dissolution of relationships. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

A Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2012
 
* "An engrossing exploration of how a murder affects a community."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
"This is a thinking-teen's mystery."—Bulletin
 
"Hahn emphasizes the universality of growing up and facing death."—Horn Book
 
* "This wrenching novel offers an aggregate portrait of the effects of loss and grief, including both the strengthening and dissolution of relationships."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
 
"This creepy tale slowly and craftily builds tension . . . It has the added feature of offering a unique snapshot of life in the 1950's."—School Library Journal
 
"The veracity of this tragedy raises the stakes for readers who are already fans of Hahn's supernatural fiction, and the coming-of-age component of Nora's shattered naïveté is all the more searing."—Bulletin
Children's Literature - Veronica Bartles
Nora is excited for summer. She dreams of picnics in the park and days lounging on the beach. She is even hoping that Don, her longtime crush, will finally notice her this summer. But everything changes on the last day of her junior year, when two of her best friends, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, are murdered on the way to school. Everyone is certain that Buddy, Cheryl's ex-boyfriend, is the killer, but Nora does not believe it. The real killer might still be out there, somewhere. Suddenly, Nora's small Maryland hometown does not feel quite so safe, she does not want to go out with her friends, and she wonders how God could allow such things to happen. In a story based on a true-life crime, Hahn explores the grief and fear associated with the sudden, tragic loss of a friend. Though it is set in 1956, the story will touch the hearts and minds of teens today, as stories of school shootings pop up in the media. Hahn brilliantly portrays the thoughts and feelings of those who have been devastated by the murder as well as offering a peek inside the mind of the boy who pulled the trigger. A must-read book for those who have experienced loss, as well as those who may feel like they are forever on the outside, looking in. Reviewer: Veronica Bartles
VOYA - Jane Harper
It is the summer of 1956 in a small Maryland town. "Tutti Frutti" and "Earth Angel" are playing on the radio, and Nora and her friends are at a party in the park, making plans for one last high school summer. They do not know that a killer is stalking them, quietly making deadly plans of his own. The next morning, two of the girls are murdered on their way to school. This story has all the elements of a good murder mystery, except that the ends are not neatly tied up and the bad guy does not necessarily get what is coming to him. Instead, the author takes us beyond genre conventions, as this tale of a brutal double murder evolves into a compelling coming-of-age story. Nora questions her faith and the values of the people in her small town as they rush to accuse a killer, and for the first time, she sees how class and economic differences drive the dynamics in her hometown. While told mainly from Nora's point of view, the narrative perspective switches occasionally to the boy who is accused of the murder, as well as brief, disturbing observations by the real killer. Diary entries from the dead girls round out the exploration of the murders and give readers a chance to consider the crime from more than one angle. In an afterword, the author explains that the book is based on a true crime that took place in her hometown during her own teenage years, and has haunted her ever since. Reviewer: Jane Harper
Kirkus Reviews
The high-school year is almost over, there's a party in the park and Mister Death will soon be there, rifle in hand. It's June 1956, and the kids in the park are dancing to Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the Platters. Mister Death is there too, a boy in a tree, rifle in hand. Two girls, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, never make it to school the next day, their bloody bodies found in the park where they were shot. Hahn's well-constructed story traces the effects of a crime on everyone involved, including Buddy Novak, accused of a crime he didn't commit. Multiple perspectives offer readers a chance to view the crime from various angles. A third-person narration follows the machinations of Mister Death, while a first-person voice is perfect for developing narrator Nora Cunningham's character, a 16-year-old girl full of questions and doubts, and who ultimately doesn't believe the gossip mill that pins the blame on Buddy. Diary entries, letters and first-person accounts from secondary characters add depth and sophistication to the tale, letting readers figure out for themselves what really happened. An engrossing exploration of how a murder affects a community. (Historical thriller. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547822372
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/17/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 154,282
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: HL700L (what's this?)
  • File size: 470 KB

Meet the Author

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.

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Read an Excerpt

Thursday, June 14
Party in the Park
Nora

Despite the summer heat, I’m sprawled on my bed, radio turned up loud to get the full benefit of Little Richard singing "Tutti Frutti." Dad’s not home from work and Mom’s outside hanging up the wash, so there’s nobody to scream "Turn that radio down!"
   The window fan blows warm air on my face. I close my eyes and drift off into a daydream about Don Appleton, a boy in my art class. I’ve loved him since eighth grade. Not that he knows it. Not that he loves me. Anyway . . .
   The car radio blasts "Tutti Frutti," and the wind blows through my hair. Don smiles at me as he slides one arm around my shoulder, and I move closer to him, till I’m practically sitting in his lap. The way Cheryl rides with Buddy, her hand on his thigh. He kisses me and someone blows a horn at us. "You’re so pretty," he whispers. "I really like you."
   Up ahead is the frozen custard stand. Peggy Turner—Don’s real-life girlfriend—is there with her friends. They all stare. They can’t believe Don is with me. Right in front of them, he kisses me again, and then he—
   "Nora, phone!" my little brother hollers up the steps. "Phone!"
   Jolted out of my daydream, I holler back, "Who is it?" I’m too hot to move.
   "I don’t know," he yells. "Some girl."
   Dull from the heat, I go downstairs and take the phone from Billy.
   It’s Ellie. "A bunch of kids are getting together in the park tonight," she says. "Can you come?"
   My mood suddenly improves. "Sure," I say.
   "Sleep over at my house," she says. "We’ll walk to school together tomorrow. Last day! Yay!"
   "Who’s coming?" I cross my fingers and hope Ellie will say Don, Don will be there. Which is silly, because he isn’t in the same crowd. Don’s on the basketball team. He dates cheerleaders and majorettes. He lives in Dulaney Park, the rich part of town. I got Mom to drive me by his house last Halloween, just to see what it looked like. I was scared he might see me, so I crouched on the floor and peeked out the car window. His house was all lit up. Some trick-or-treaters were ringing the doorbell, and I told Mom to drive on in case Don came to the door.
   "All the kids will be there," Ellie says. "Paul, Gary, Charlie, Cheryl, and lots more. You know how our neighborhood is."
   "More exciting than mine, that’s for sure." As I speak, I see Mr. and Mrs. Clements drift past our house, their little dog trailing behind them. They’re old. Their dog is old. Old houses, old people—I guess they go together. Not a person on our block is under forty except Billy and me. Boring, boring, boring.
   Ellie lives a mile away on the other side of Elmgrove, in Evergreen Acres. It used to be woods when I was little. Block after block, street after street of row houses built after the war for veterans and their families.
   Everybody’s young there, even parents. Most of the dads fought in Europe and Africa and all those islands in the Pacific. My dad was too old for the draft, but Ellie’s father was in the navy. Joined up after Pearl Harbor, the first guy in his town, he told me.
   And the kids there—dozens of them, from babies to teenagers. Bikes and wagons and sandboxes in every yard, hopscotch games drawn on the sidewalks, toys scattered on front steps, baby carriages and strollers on porches, ball games in the street, dances in the rec center, souped-up cars with loud radios. It’s never boring on Ellie’s street.

After dinner, I toss what I need into my overnight case, kiss Mom, make a face at Billy, and follow Dad to the old Buick parked in the driveway. He grumbles about driving me over there, but I’m thinking he doesn’t really mind because he can have a beer with his buddies at the Starlight on the way home.
   When we’re near Ellie’s house, I tell Dad, "Just let me out at the corner of Thirty-Third and Madison. Then you won’t have to bother with turning around and all."
   He glances at me and nods. I hope he hasn’t guessed how much the old Buick embarrasses me. Not only is it out of style, but it has dents on the side and the paint is faded and dull. Inside, the drab ceiling liner sags and the upholstery is torn and frayed. The scratchy old army blanket covering the back seat is disgusting. In the heat, it smells like dust.
   Worst of all, the radio’s broken. If my parents ever think I’m responsible enough to get my driver’s license, I can’t possibly take my friends anywhere in a car that doesn’t have a radio.
   The thing is, Dad’s an automobile mechanic. Not that you’d guess it. He’s English, and he has a posh accent to prove it. Most people think he’s a college professor at Towson State. Sometimes I let them go on thinking that.
   Anyway, he keeps the Buick running like a top—to quote him. What does he care what the car looks like? What’s important is the engine.
   "Here?" Dad pulls over on the shoulder and stops.
   I open the door, eager to escape before anyone sees me getting out of the car. "That’s Ellie’s house right there, three doors down." I point at the brick row houses, each with its own small yard and its own chain-link fence. Where I wished we lived instead of in a poky old bungalow down at the wrong end of Becker Street, two doors up from the train tracks.
   Ellie’s waiting at the door, ready to go. Like me, she’s wearing short shorts, a sleeveless blouse, and scuffed white Keds. Her red hair is pulled back in a curly ponytail. "Dump your stuff in the hall," she says. "The rec center just opened."
   Mrs. O’Brien sticks her head out of the kitchen and smiles. "Good to see you, Nora."
   "You, too." I smile at Ellie’s mother. She’s dark-haired and sweet-faced, younger than Mom and fun to be around. Best of all, she makes me feel welcome. Special, even. Ellie’s friend. Catholic like Ellie. Not the kind of girl you worry about. A nice girl.
   In other words, a boring girl. A flat-chested, tall, skinny girl. Not the kind to sneak out or smoke or be a bad influence.
   "Gary’s bringing his records," Ellie tells me as we leave the house. "He’s got everything—Fats Domino, Little Richard, Shirley and Lee, the Platters, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, the Crew-Cuts, Bill Doggett."
   We cut across the ball field to the rec center, a low cinderblock building backing up to the woods. In the daytime, it’s a summer camp for little kids who sit at picnic tables and weave misshapen potholders on little metal frames, string beads on string, squish clay into lopsided bowls—the same old boring craft projects I hated when I was little. The kind of stuff adults think is creative.
   At seven thirty, the sun is low enough to cast long shadows across the grass. The rec center’s white walls reflect the sky’s pink light. I hear the Penguins singing "Earth Angel." The song transforms the hot, dusty park into a place where a boy could fall in love with you—or break your heart.
   "Oh, no. Look who’s here." Ellie grabs my arm and points at the parking lot beside the rec center. Buddy’s sitting on the hood of his old black Ford, smoking a cigarette. Hair smoothed back into a perfect ducktail, white T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to hold a pack of Luckies, Levi’s low on the hips, motorcycle boots even though he doesn’t have a motorcycle. A cool cat, that’s how he sees himself. Short and skinny and weasel-faced, that’s how Ellie and I see him.
   "Why’s he hanging around here?" I ask. "I thought all the graduates went to Ocean City the minute they got rid of their caps and gowns. It’s what I’m doing next year." I picture myself lying on the beach, getting a good tan. A boy walks toward me—Don, of course, by himself for once. He sees me, he smiles, he—
   Ellie says, "I hope he’s not planning to start something with Cheryl."
   "She broke up with him at least a month ago," I say. "I thought it was all over between them."
   Ellie shakes her head. "For her, but not for him. He calls her all the time. She won’t talk to him, she tells him to stop calling her, but he keeps on doing it. Her parents won’t let him near the house, so he parks his car down the street and watches for her to come out. She won’t go anywhere unless Bobbi Jo or I go with her."
   "I didn’t know that." I’m thinking how much in love they used to be, always together—CherylandBuddy, BuddyandCheryl. I’d seen their names carved on a tree in the park and scratched in cement on a new sidewalk. I’d thought then it was true love, it would last forever.
   "There’s lots you don’t know, Nora." Ellie drops her voice to a whisper, her eyes widen. "Remember that black eye she had last April? Buddy did that."
   I stare at Ellie, horrified. "She’s never told me anything like that."
   "She walks to school with me almost every day now. She tells me stuff then." Ellie pauses. "Actually, I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody about the black eye. So don’t mention it, okay?"
   I glance at Buddy, still lounging by his car. "I hate him." And I really do. I feel my hatred, I taste it, dark and bitter.
   "Me too." Ellie’s voice rises. We stand there and glare at Buddy.
   He turns his head, sees us, and waves. He doesn’t know what we know. We look the other way and pretend not to notice him.
   Behind us, we hear Cheryl calling, "Wait up!" She’s with Bobbi Jo, Ellie’s neighbor. They run to catch us, backlit by the setting sun, one a little taller than the other, both blond, Cheryl’s hair in a long ponytail, Bobbi Jo’s short and curly. They’re both wearing white shorts and blue shirts. I can’t help noticing that Cheryl’s shorts are tighter and shorter than Bobbi Jo’s. Her blouse is also cut much lower, lots lower than I’d dare wear. But then, I don’t have as much on top as she has. They’re both wearing too much bright red lipstick. Cheryl’s idea, I think.
   While we’re waiting, I avoid looking at Buddy. "I thought this was a get-together for our class," I whisper to Ellie. "Bobbi Jo doesn’t even go to Eastern—plus she’s only fourteen."
   Ellie looks surprised. "Don’t you like Bobbi Jo?"
   "Of course I like her. It’s just that . . ." Honestly, it’s just that when Bobbi Jo’s around, boys notice her, not me. But I’m not about to admit that to anybody.
   Cheryl slings her arms around Ellie and me. "Hey, you all." She’s wearing enough perfume to knock you over.
   "He’s here," Ellie hisses, not looking in Buddy’s direction.
   "Damn, damn, damn." Cheryl glances at Buddy, still sitting on the hood of his car, still smoking, still watching us. "I was hoping he wouldn’t come."
   Buddy doesn’t move, but he stares hard at Cheryl. Some of his friends have joined him. Like Buddy, they wear tight Levi’s and white T-shirts. Vincent, Chip, and Gene. My father would never let me date guys like them. Not that I’d want to. Their droopy eyes and curled lips scare me.
   With an eye on us, Vincent says something to Buddy and laughs. Buddy doesn’t even smile. He just keeps watching Cheryl. It’s creepy the way he looks at her with that cigarette hanging out of one side of his mouth, like he thinks he’s Marlon Brando or something.
   "He’s going to ruin everything," Cheryl says. "I hate him."
   "We won’t let him near you," Bobbi Jo says.
   "We’ll be your bodyguards," Ellie says.
   "Or to be more exact," I add, "your Buddy guards."
   We laugh, draw closer together, and walk toward the rec center, arms linked. We’re a gang, all four of us. Buddy and his friends aren’t going to ruin our fun.
   But maybe it won’t be fun. Maybe it’ll be like all the other parties. Everyone will dance except me. I’ll be the wallflower, hiding in the girls’ room trying not to cry, wishing I was home, wishing I hadn’t come. My mood plunges, I feel like leaving now, before anything bad happens. But of course I can’t leave. What would the others think? I have to stay even if I end up crying in the girls’ room.
   Gary stands by the record player. He’s got a stack of forty-fives ready to go. At school he’s the guy who runs the movie projector in science class. He sets up the microphone when it’s needed. He does sound effects for school plays. I wonder if he ever feels like I do. Maybe he’s just pretending to like being the disc jockey while the other kids dance.
   A few couples are slow dancing to "Unchained Melody," one of my pretend songs for Don. Slow and dreamy and romantic. Perfect for slow dancing. I dedicated it to him once on a late-night radio show: "To Don from a secret admirer."
   When the disc jockey read what I’d written, I almost died of mortification. What if Don guessed I was his secret admirer? I was scared to go to school the next day, but he acted the same as always, kidding me about the picture I was painting in art class. "A masterpiece! But wait, is this horse crippled?"
   Nora—a nice kid, but who likes nice kids?
   I watch the couples hold each other tight, swaying slowly as if they’re dancing underwater. As if they’ll die if they’re separated. Cheryl and Buddy used to dance like that at parties in Ellie’s basement rec room. Not anymore.
   At least they’d been in love. Maybe it didn’t last long, but still . . .
   "Hey, Nora." Ellie nudges me. "Let’s get a soda."
   The four of us head to the cooler. We don’t want to stand around looking like we’re waiting for someone to ask us to dance. There aren’t many boys here yet, and the ones who are here have partners. Or, like Buddy and his friends, they’re leaning against their cars, smoking and watching the scene.
   "I thought there’d be lots more kids," Bobbi Jo says, obviously disappointed.
   Cheryl looks around and shrugs. "It’s early."
   Before we finish our sodas, kids start arriving. Cars pull into the parking lot, radios blaring. Doors slam. The concrete floor fills with dancers, jitterbugging now to "Maybelline."
   That’s when Ralph Stewart shows up. What’s he doing here? He’s from Don’s neighborhood, a basketball player, a big wheel, not the type to hang out in our part of town. I crane my neck, hoping to see Don follow him in, but it’s just Ralph. He stands there, scanning the crowd.
   "Oh my God," Cheryl whispers. "He came! I asked him, but I didn’t think he’d really come." Her face is red. I can almost hear her heart beating faster.
   I glance at Ellie. She doesn’t look surprised. This must be another secret they shared walking to school.
   With a big grin, Ralph saunters over, takes Cheryl’s hand, and leads her into the crowd of dancers. Cheryl laughs, tosses her ponytail, moves fast, hips shaking. Ralph matches her every move. He’s so cute, I think. Maybe not as cute as Don, but almost. How does Cheryl get boys to like her? What’s the secret? Will I ever figure it out?
   Suddenly Buddy’s beside me lighting a cigarette, his eyes focused on Cheryl and Ralph. "What the hell is Ralph Stewart doing here?"
   He asks like it’s my fault, like I should apologize. My face burns and I shrug. "How should I know?"
   "Cheryl invited him." Bobbi Jo leans past me and grins at Buddy. "They’re dating, if you want to know."
   I stare at Bobbi Jo. I thought Ralph was going steady with Sally Smith. She wears his ring around her neck. I’ve seen it. Suddenly I feel like I’m not really part of Ellie’s neighborhood. I don’t live here, I don’t walk to school with Cheryl, she doesn’t tell me her secrets.
   I glance at Ellie. She’s shaking her head, sending signals to shut up, but Bobbi Jo ignores her.
   "Cheryl thinks he’s going to ask her to go steady tonight," she tells Buddy. "He might even give her his class ring."
   "What do you know about it?" Buddy sneers. "You should be home playing with dolls or something."
   Bobbi Jo’s face turns red. "I’m almost fifteen," she says. "I know plenty."
   "Don’t make me laugh." Buddy starts to walk away just as "Maybelline" ends and Wild Bill Doggett comes on with "Honky Tonk." The music has a deep dark driving rhythm that you feel inside. You want to dance, and not just ordinary jitterbug—you want to use your body in strange new ways. Twist and sway and move your hips. I can’t explain the effect it has on me—it’s almost scary.
   I wish I had the nerve to go out there and dance like Cheryl and Ralph—not exactly the dirty boogie, but pretty close. At the junior prom, a bunch of wild kids from Holly Court got thrown out of the gym for doing it. The look on the chaperones’ faces was really funny. You’d have thought it was the end of the world.
   Boys whistle and shout as Cheryl boogies. She shoots a look at Buddy like she’s taunting him. Making sure he notices her short shorts and tan legs and low-cut top.
   "That bitch," Buddy mutters. "Just look at her. I could kill her."
   Cheryl whispers something to Ralph. They both look at Buddy and laugh.
   "Oh, come on," Ellie says to Buddy, "Don’t you ever watch TV? They do stuff like that all the time on the Milt Grant show."
   "Not like that, they don’t." Without another word, Buddy walks away.
   "Honky Tonk" ends, and "Tutti Frutti" starts. Paul asks Ellie to dance and Walt asks Bobbi Jo. That leaves me sitting there by myself as usual. Just as I’m thinking I’ll go the girls’ room, Charlie shows up. "Come on." He sticks out his hand. "Let’s dance."
   I take his hand and follow him into the crowd. He’s shorter than I am. But he’s funny, and I like him the way he likes me—as a friend. Dancing with him is a whole lot better than crying in the girls’ room.
   "Gary," Charlie shouts, "put on Little Richard next—‘LongTall Sally.’ "
   As soon as "Tutti Frutti" is over, Gary drops the needle on "Long Tall Sally," and Charlie and I laugh. It’s his song for me—he’s dedicated it to me more than once on radio show call-ins: "And now, for long tall Nora from short skinny Charlie, here’s Little Richard singing ‘Long, Tall Sally.’ "
   Ellie thinks Charlie likes me more than he lets on, but I don’t believe it. I want him as a friend, not a boyfriend. Someone to have fun with. Besides, I can’t imagine kissing a boy shorter than I am.
   Charlie spins me in close. "Oooh, baby!"
   I laugh and step on his foot. When he spins me, I bump him with my elbow. He does a dirty boogie move and I imitate it. "Oooh, baby," we shout.
   By the time the song is over, we’re laughing so hard we can’t dance. It’s dark now. A few couples drift away from the shelter’s lights toward their cars, toward the woods. The night air is hot, humid, heavy. An almost full moon has just risen over the dark mass of trees. Somewhere in the shadows a mockingbird sings, almost like a nightingale, I think.
   "Unchained Melody" is playing again. I picture myself with Don, dancing, slow and close, his cheek pressed to mine. He’d be singing to me and me alone, his lips pressed to my ear, his breath a tickle on my cheek. Why can’t life be the way I want it to be? Just once?
   But it’s only Charlie I’m with, and we’re walking back to the picnic table, talking about chemistry. I’m scared I’m getting a C or even worse and he’s telling me not to worry so much.
   He’s right, I do worry too much. All the time, about everything. Chemistry and math are just little things on my worry scale. I worry about being too tall, too skinny. Sometimes I have weird thoughts and then I think I might be secretly crazy. What if I crack up someday? Lose my mind? Go nuts? What if I end up in Spring Grove Insane Asylum? The people there howl when the moon’s full, at least that’s what a boy in my math class told me. He should know. He lives on the street that ends at the asylum grounds. There’s a big iron gate and a guard in a little booth and a tall fence with spikes. I’d be afraid to live on that street.
   Do other people ever worry about the kind of things I worry about? I glance at Charlie. Not him. He’s still talking about chemistry and how much trouble he’ll be in if Haskins gives him a C.
   It’s just me. There’s something wrong with me, with my brain or something. I might have a tumor, I might die young before I even graduate from high school.
   We sit down beside Walt and Bobbi Jo. I try to push the heaviness in my head away. I smile, I laugh, I pretend I’m just like everyone else. The Great Pretender. I’m good at that. Acting normal.
   While Gary chooses the next record, Cheryl and Ralph join us. Her face is flushed, her eyes bright. She’s holding Ralph’s hand.
   Over on the other side of the rec center, just where the rec lights meet the dark, Buddy is watching her. He’s looking at Cheryl like he hates her.
   Cheryl notices Buddy and holds Ralph’s hand tighter.
   Ralph grins at Bobbi Jo. "Aren’t you a little young to be out this late?"
   "Less than two years to go and I’ll be sixteen," Bobbi Jo says.
   "Yeah, but when you’re sixteen, we’ll be eighteen," Ralph reminds her. "You’ll never catch up with us."
   "I can pass for sixteen right now," Bobbi Jo says. "I told that cute guy at the Esso station I was sixteen and he believed me. He wants to take me out, but I know what my father would say if he showed up at our front door. He won’t let me date." She pouts for a second and then smiles at Ralph.
   How I wish I had dimples like hers. But maybe they wouldn’t look as cute on me. Maybe my face is the wrong kind for dimples. Too long maybe, too plain.
   Ellie and Paul come over. "It’s too hot to dance," Ellie says. "Look at my hair, it’s all frizzed up and I’m roasting."
   "There’s a cure for that." Cheryl drops her voice low. "Ralph’s got a couple of six-packs of Rolling Rock. We’re going over to the playground. Want to come?"
   I glance at Ellie. If we get caught with beer, we’ll be in a lot of trouble. She looks a little worried, but she says, "Count me in."
   Bobbi Jo grins. "Me too."
   Me too, me too, me too . . . I will if you will . . .

   We walk across the baseball field lit by lights from the rec center. Our shadows stretch out toward the woods, long and thin with impossibly small heads.
   For maybe the first time in my whole life, I’m doing something really reckless. Beer. The nice kid is going to drink beer. Maybe the nice kid will get drunk. Maybe the nice kid will make out with somebody. Who knows what the nice kid might do on a warm, dark summer night?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 49 )
Rating Distribution

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(33)

4 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Its been a really long time since I read a book by Mary Downing

    Its been a really long time since I read a book by Mary Downing Hahn but when I was younger I used to devour all her middle grade ghost stories. I was always fascinated by how easily she could scare the crap out of me and still keep me glued to the page. I think the same thing can be said about her new YA novel but instead of using a scare tactic to pull the reader in, it's the story's raw emotion that will grab you.

    Although the novel is told through the eyes of several different characters, including Buddy and Mister Death (the killer), you spend most of your time with Nora. Nora is an empathetic character who is easy to care about. Her internal struggle to deal with her friend's death is really what drives the novel forward and if you don't feel a connection with Nora it's likely this novel just isn't going to work for you.

    The novel has a slow pace which I think works well in showing how the characters and town deal with the crime's aftermath. This is NOT a crime novel but rather a coming-of age story built around a tragedy with some mystery elements thrown in. I think the 1950's small town setting adds a lot of intensity and atmosphere to Nora's own belief that bad things only happen to other people who live somewhere else.

    When I first picked up Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls I was only vaguely aware that it was based on an actual crime, as well as the author's own personal experience of that event. I think this fact adds greatly to the emotional depth of the story. You can feel the author's emotions leaking through the page and the weight of the story seems to have a greater importance.

    I was really surprised by just how much I enjoyed this book. Though it is heartbreaking, I do think the novel has something important to say about how people deal with tragedy. The novel is likely to only attract people who like coming-of age stories or historical fiction, but I do hope it finds a larger audience.

    16 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    Omg!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It sucked me in on the sample. IT SOUNDS SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!! CANT WAIT 2 READ THE WHOLE BOOK!!!!!!!!

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Best book for a bookworm

    It all started when i went to the library and i saw the book. i couldnt imagine what it must be like for those girls i heard it was based on a true story.yet we see these deaths happen every day this story gives you a background on how those beloved people are just killed for no reason.it was so emotion i even had a big huge tears coming out.this book is amazing i hope ou will enjoy as much as i did!<<<¿33333333333333

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2012

    Overall I think this was a very good book, the ending was not wh

    Overall I think this was a very good book, the ending was not what I was expecting, but I loved the element of surprise.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2012

    Girls love it

    THis book was purchased as a gift for a 10-year-old, who loves the other works by the author. She liked it very much. Since she lives in a different city I haven't been able to borrow it yet, but she was happy to get it along with a gift card so she can make other choices.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Good

    It sounds like a very very good book

    2 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2013

    Favorite book

    This book is amazing! I was a little surprised when I read it though, because all the other books by this author are ghost stories so when I started the book I thought it was going to be a ghost story but it is even better and much sadder my other favorite book by this author is Deep, Dark and Dangerous it is awesome too

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2012

    Best Ever!!!

    I've never read such a facinating book by Mary Downing Hahn.This beats the other super duper awesome book of hers,which is Deep,and Dark and Dangerous.Its awesome for all of the world's mystery loving, suspense breathing people.Who ever didn't read this book yet is CRAZY!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2012

    Confession: I've had a longtime obsession with crime stories. I

    Confession: I've had a longtime obsession with crime stories. I blame my
    family (and too much old A&amp;E TV shows as a child, and maybe a few
    too many years of CSI more recently) for this. I'm fascinated by it. I'm
    horrified and disturbed at times. But there's nothing scarier than some
    of these real life stories. Needless to say, Mister Death's Blue-Eyed
    Girls caught my eye for exactly this reason. And I think it was also
    because of this that led to my unfortunate disappointment with the book
    as a whole. It really wasn't the crime story I was hoping for, not at
    all. Reasons to Read: 1.A coming of age story: I might have liked
    this book more if I had had a better idea that I was supposed to expect
    a coming of age story rather than a crime story. And it's a fascinating
    look at one turn of events that tragically impacted a large number of
    people. But our narrator, Nora, finds this stage of her life to be
    almost completely defined by this murder - it really does end up
    triggering a number of life changing decisions and realizations for her.
    2.The setting: 1950s small town: I absolutely loved the vintage feel of
    the book - from the pop culture, the little bits of fashion talked
    about, the ideas, the struggles, the societal changes, etc. It was
    fascinating for me to read about and a time period that YA doesn't
    typically feature. The real problem with this book for me though was
    that it didn't feel like fiction. Instead, it felt more like a memoir
    which makes sense if you read the Acknowledgements of the book, where
    Mary talks about how this book was inspired by an event which actually
    happened to her as a teenager. And she lays out the truth of what
    happened - which is actually VERY, extremely close to what happens in
    the book. So rather than feeling like fiction, Mister Death read to me
    like (a biased) account of Mary's experiences with the murder of two
    teen girls she knew. And normally this wouldn't be an issue. Except
    for when it comes to who the killer is - Nora has doubts that the
    ex-boyfriend, Buddy, killed the girls even though the entire town
    believes it was him. Mary explains how she has the same doubts, so this
    read to me (without seeing any real evidence of who committed the
    murders) as if this book was supposed to portray (what she believes to
    be) what ACTUALLY happened, even if no one believes it. Then the book
    was labelled as &quot;fiction&quot; in case anyone was upset by the
    message. I'm not a fan of this. But regardless, I still felt like much
    of the book revolved around external experiences rather than the murder
    itself, which is why I wanted to warn you that it really isn't a crime
    story. After the murders occur, the story breaks off to Nora's life.
    About her relationship with boys, about her doubts regarding her faith,
    and growing up and losing friends. But I had a difficult time piecing it
    all together, and along with the numerous other points of view (there
    were 8 in total, I believe, including Nora's) made the story feel far
    too convoluted for me. Review copy received from Thomas Allen &amp;
    Son Ltd for my honest review; no other compensation was received.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    Very good

    Well i read the sample and it sounded good so i went to books a million and started reading it.I completly forgot it was based on a real event but it like idk.i didnt read the the whole thing but only the mere first couple of chapters.it was still good.usually,i think of mary downing hahn as only an auther who writes awesome stories of ghosts and wierd happenings but this book is different in an awesome way.of course it has some curse words so it is YOUR choice if you want to read it.it kind of makes you feel like you were there by the very good descriptions.i hope you might want to read the book though:) besides some stuff in the book,i dont see why you wouldnt want to read it.if you are a huge fan of mary downing hahn (like me) then what are you waiting for? :)

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    Anonoynous

    Best bookk ever !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2012

    I loved this book, but the ending is sad and I would not want

    I loved this book, but the ending is sad and I would not want it to end up that way. However, it is interesting. It is from multiple point of views. From the killers (Mr. Death and Mr. Death's brother), people in the town(Nora, Buddy, and once Charlie), and dairies (Cheryl, Bobbi Jo, and once Ellie.). It is mostly from Nora&quot;s though.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2012

    I only wonder...

    I love all Mary's other ghost stories but id love to know the age recamendation to read this im 12

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011

    Hmmm

    Sounds ok i might read it not sure though

    1 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    LOVE IT

    omg i loved the detail the est book i have read!!!!!! :)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2014

    Okay

    I really liked this book, and i love mary downing hahn and all her books, but i have some issues with this one. First of all, i liked the main character, but halfway through she just got plain whiny and too sad. Second, the ending was not Hahn's best. It was anticlimatic, and i know it was supposed to be 'chilling' that we never got to know Mister Death's name, but it seemed too overdone. Otherwise the book was chilling and sad in all the right ways, though sometimes i just wanted to slap the main character and say, snap out of it! I suggest you rent this book from the library first instead of buying it right away, because it might not be your favorite.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    Amazing <3

    This is a beautiful, heartfelt read. Since it is based on true events, it is well detailed. This book is set apart from Mary Downing-Hahn's childrens books. This is a book that should be rated 100,000 stars! So worth every penny.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2013

    Good book, iffy ending

    I read this over the summer. I loved the book in general but the ending was very anticlimactic. I wish i couldve gotten at least a name!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2013

    I read just about all of her boks

    So good

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2013

    jaq

    Y

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