Monday, June 11, 2012

Damnable Words, Neverending Consequences: A Book Review on Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls

Nora Cunningham is your average teenager living in the year 1956. She's looking forward to summer after having just finished her junior year of high school. She has a best friend, listens to the latest music hits, and daydreams about finally becoming the kind of beauty that gets guys to notice her. The night before the last day of school she attends a party with her best friend, Ellie, and together they join their mutual friends Cheryl and Bobbi Jo for some fun as they spend time hanging out with the boys from their school and try beer for the first time.

But things aren't that simple.

At the party Cheryl's ex-boyfriend Buddy shows up, itching for a chance to talk to Cheryl again and convince her to give him another chance. Cheryl refuses, Buddy takes off and Ellie and Bobbi Jo end up telling Nora that Buddy used to hit Cheryl. The party ends and the girls plan to meet the following morning for their last school day of turning in books and getting their grades back before summer vacation. In the morning Cheryl and Bobbi Jo are ready on time, but Nora and Ellie are running late so they opt to meet them later on at school. But when Nora and Ellie show up at school, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo are nowhere to be found.

Mary Downing Hahn is one of those authors that has had one of the more profound effects on my life. I read a book called Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Hahn back when I was in the 2nd grade. After that I spent most of my elementary school years reading every Hahn book that my school library and public library owned. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the moment I saw Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls on a shelf at my local bookstore, I immediately put the books I had with me down and grabbed a copy.

This book is about perception. A few choice words can turn the tide and make a person become filled with unbelievable hate, rage, or pain. As Nora deals with the aftermath of a horrible tragedy she starts to finally come into herself as a person.  She's forced to leave her childhood behind as she deals with her loss on her own terms. Nora starts out typically self-absorbed, daydreaming about impressing her crush and about what she plans to do with her life in college with her artistic talent. As the tragedy unfolds and the summer starts to pass her by, Nora comes out of the shell of her mind, contemplating various life-altering decisions such as her belief in religion and the effects her friends and family have on her well-being, forcing her to focus more on what truly is around her rather than dreaming about how she wishes things could be.

The set-up of the novel moves at an even pace. Each chapter is named and dated, some even have times attached, and the entire book is set up in parts with titles hinting at the new issues that will arise as the tragedy strikes and the aftermath unfolds. Hahn makes use of multiple narrators to tell her story so the reader has a chance to see things from Nora and Ellie's point-of-view along with the young man accused of the crime. Even the title's own Mister Death offers up some chilling chapters. The multiple perspectives is something seen a lot in YA books today and yet here, Hahn's use of the writing technique is a perfect choice. Tragedy involves countless people and the multiple views seen in this book serve to make the story complete. As a reader, you NEED to see how each person is dealing with their grief in this book. There is really no other way for it to unfold.

The novel follows Nora the closest, resulting in the majority of the chapters being told from her perspective and as a lead, her story arc is believable and admirable in its own right. There's an impressive passage on page 282 of Hahn's novel, where Nora talks about the changes in herself and others and how many countless lives will never be the same because of their tragedy. It's a moving, beautiful piece highlighting Nora's innermost thoughts and beliefs and the honesty with which Nora speaks displays a sense of maturity and growth that made me as a reader feel proud of what Nora was able to overcome. The flighty teenager at the start of the novel is gone but what the readers are left with is an inspiring young woman with an incredible inner strength. Nora may never recover from what she suffered but the reader can feel safe in the knowledge that she will continue to survive one day after the other.

What I took out of this book was that the effect of a few choice words can have unbelievable consequences. Either you can go with the crowd and believe them or you can make up your mind to think for yourself. I've read plenty of Hahn's books, the ones where the ghosts appear and are supposed to creep you out. And yet this book made my skin crawl and there's not a single ghost in it. It's raw and authentic and filled with the struggle and pain of kids having to understand a senseless tragedy in what they thought was an idyllic existence. They've never considered the consequences of their actions. Why would they? And yet Mister Death came for them anyway and the truth is that no one is ever really safe. What's even more unsettling is that the tragedy of this book is based on Hahn's own experiences as a teenager.

Read this book. Give it to your kids to read and then talk to them about it. Violence is always a possibility in everyday life and this book manages to show that it's reach goes on infinitely even if we don't live long enough to see its destruction.

Rating: 10 Stars

No comments:

Post a Comment