In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Published by Abrams, Amulet Books on 4/2/13
Genres: YA Historical, YA Paranormal / Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Source: The Smashtastic Library
Purchase from: Amazon | B & N
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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 is a 16 year old girl living in the year 1918. She’s stuck in between an epic war and an epic pandemic, trying to remain positive and care-free. She is sent to live with her 26 year old aunt due to family issues you will discover. During her time in a new city, Mary Shelley reminisces about Stephen, her first love, who recently enlisted in WWI. During her time with her aunt, many supernatural events occur and Mary Shelley finds herself fighting for her loved ones in ways she never thought possible. She experiences a lot of trauma and heartache, but fights like a cornered cat. And trust me, that is some serious fightin’.13112915

This book was pretty dang fascinating. It started out good and got increasingly more interesting and exciting. The last 100 pages were the best, and the last 50 had me on the edge of my seat! The build-up of tension, mystery and fear is well done. The old early 20th century photographs were a great addition to this book and really helped to set the dark, dreary and ghastly tone of the story. Also, the author’s notes at the end of the book let us know that a lot of her story comes from real events and information from 1918. While it is a work of fiction, a lot of the information is based on reality. And that, my bookish folk, is what brings the serious creep factor to this story. There’s nothing quite like a whiff of the rotting corpses lining the streets of your neighborhood and horrific dreams of blackbirds pecking out your eyes to put life into perspective. #JustSayin

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza,
I opened the window,
And in-flew-Enza.

Wars do bad things to a person’s psychological health, as does a serious illness. I loved that it was difficult to figure out exactly which character was suffering from psychosis, or if psychosis was even part of the equation at all. We get great and terrible insight into the toll war and disease takes on humanity in 1918. Mary Shelley visits a Red Cross hospital to volunteer with physically damaged war veterans and we get a firsthand look into how the Spanish influenza brutally tortured people before they died. Cat Winters throws us some serious ugly in this novel, and she does not hold back the reality of the events in 1918. It’s a great historical account of the era and it really piqued my interest in finding more books set during this time period. That might sound morbid, but I’m a lover of epidemiology, so reading about microscopic killers is fascinating to me.

I am pretty impressed with Cat Winter’s debut!

About the author


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