Title: In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Plot Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of Apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
In the Shadow of Blackbirds combines some of my biggest interests: the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the spiritualism craze that swept the globe (especially spirit photography). So I was already predisposed to like it before I opened it. However, when you have an interest in a time period you are also likely to be more critical of any perceived shortcomings. Luckily, Cat Winters did an incredible job with this story and I was impressed all around.The imagery and atmosphere Winters has created is unbelievable.
The setting of Blackbirds rang true for me in every detail…I felt like she had actually witnessed the time period, in San Diego, herself. And Mary Shelley Black is a butt-kicking heroine in every way, from the goggles she wears at any time of day and her mother’s old doctor bag she carries around with her (not to mention her refusal to worry about how odd she might look sporting those items), to her persistence in discovering what has happened to her first love, Stephen. Mary Shelley Black is someone you would be proud and lucky to have as a daughter, a niece, a friend. Temper and a tendency to stubbornness keep her feeling like a three-dimensional protagonist and not a cardboard cutout of quirky modern-day hipness. In short, Mary Shelley rocks.
Oh and can I just say, the blackbirds? Never would I have thought that plain birds could be so horrifying. The photos chosen for the illustrations are all creepy and haunting and atmospheric…and did I mention creepy?
All of the scenes involving Stephen are wrenching and…
What actually happened to Stephen was so, so, SO much worse than anything I could have imagined. Shocking and brutal and haunting, and above all, unpredictable. I never dreamed Winters would ‘take it there’ but she proves herself to be a fearless author with the risks she takes. As a result, there is so much emotional impact in a book where the love story is primarily all back story–not an easy feat.
I highly, highly recommend this book.