Author: Cat Winters
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 2013
Description: In the Shadow of Blackbirds follows 16 year old Mary Shelley Black (yes, named after the woman who wrote Frankenstein) during October of 1918, during the tail end of World War I and the Spanish Influenza that swept across the world. Mary Shelley is forced to flee her hometown of Portland, Oregon, when her father is labeled a traitor and carted off to jail. She goes to live with her aunt in San Diego, where the flu haunts them at every corner. The real mystery begins when her childhood best friend, who had left a few months prior to join the war, begins to haunt her as well.
Review by Cassie Leeann:
Blackbirds has a good (albeit, creepy) story and is historically interesting. Winters depicted the spirit photography (photographs that were doctored to make it look like ghosts of loved ones had returned to visit) and séances particularly well and she shines when writing about the history of the book’s timeframe. The looming threat of the Spanish Influenza is present in nearly every page, even while Mary Shelley struggles to ignore it and focus on helping her dead friend move on from the nightmares that haunted him. The book takes a little time to find its feet, though. It spends nearly one hundred pages setting up the story before it actually gets going. My interest definitely picked up after the story started moving.
One thing I had trouble with was the characters. Mary Shelley and her aunt are the two people seen most prominently, and they’re fleshed out nicely enough that I didn’t care too much about the ensemble characters. What I had trouble with was Mary Shelley’s thoughts on the other characters. She basically told the reader who to like and who to hate without much to go on, but it took me awhile before I believed her one way or the other. It threw off the balance a bit. There was no build to like or loathe. It just started at one place and stayed there.
The ending was predictable. I figured it out earlier on and tried to convince myself that I would be wrong. It’s not a bad ending, exactly. It’s just one that the reader can see coming before the end actually gets there. And the reveal of why makes up for the predictability of how and who.
If you’re interested in the World War I era or anything spiritual, I’d suggest picking it up. It’s available on Barnes & Noble. Winters tells the story with great imagery and knowledge of the time period’s history. Once the book finds it’s rhythm, you won’t be able to put it down.