Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds Review

Title:  In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author:  Cat Winters
Published April 2nd 2013 by Amulet Books

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?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
Mary Shelley Black's life is falling apart.  Her father has been arrested for treason, so now she has been sent from Oregon to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego.  The year is 1918, World War I is raging on, and the Spanish influenza is spreading everywhere.  Mary Shelley's father told her that if he was arrested she was to go to Aunt Eva's.  He believed the flu wouldn't be so bad in San Diego.  So, as the story opens we find her traveling to San Diego amidst other passengers scared of the flu.  Everyone wears masks and has great suspicion of any cough or sniffle around them.  Mary has never felt so alone.

Mary Shelley does manage to find comfort in her letters from her childhood friend Stephen Embers.  The last time the two saw one another their relationship became more than just a friendship.  Now, Mary Shelley writes to Stephen who lives in San Diego near her aunt; however, when Mary arrives in the city to stay Stephen has joined the war effort.  Mary must now find comfort in Stephen's letters from overseas even though she would much rather find comfort from him in person.  The two share a great bond that seems to transcend all things.  That bond will be tested within the pages of this book.

As the story progresses, we meet Stephen's older stepbrother Julius.  Mary posed for one of Julius's spirit photographs before he caught Mary Shelley and Stephen embracing the last time they saw one another.  Julius spun a different, more scandalous tale about what happened between Mary and Stephen.  Mary will never forgive Julius, and will always remember what Stephen said about Julius being a fraud.  So, when her Aunt Eva takes an interest in Julius and his Spiritual Photography, Mary wants nothing to do with him.  However, Mary Shelley soon learns that she has become the poster image for Julius's work.

A tragedy occurs that shatters Mary's world even more.  Mary learns that Stephen has been killed in battle.  It is such a hard burden for her to deal with that she goes out into a lightning storm with her clockwork necklace to electrocute herself.  Mary succeeds and what happens next changes her life.  She dies and returns to her body, but upon her return she learns she has the ability to communicate with a spirit, Stephen.  What she learns by speaking to Stephen's ghost leads her on a journey to discover the truth about how he died.  The results of which will haunt the reader after the final page has turned.

Cat Winters novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, is a beautiful work of fiction combined with historical facts about the war and flu.  Interspersed throughout the book are actual photographs from this period in history, adding an even greater depth to the tale.  The work is a definite must read.

*reviewed by Casie, YA @ Cpl. J. R. Searcy Memorial Library   

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