In the Shadow of Blackbirds (by Cat Winters: Juvenile Fiction) © 2013

Rating: 4/5

Description: 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?

Review: As soon as the book opens, we are immersed in a world cloaked with darkness and paranoia. Mary Shelly Black, named after the author of Frankenstein, is an extremely bright and likable young woman who is caught between science and spiritualism in her quest to make sense of a world overcome with war and disease in 1918 California.
Mary Shelley’s life has not been easy. She lost her mother as an infant and her father was recently arrested for alleged treason at their home in Portland, Ore. World War I is underway and those those who speak out against it, like her father, find themselves persecuted and arrested for high crimes. Mary Shelley flees to her Aunt Eva in San Diego to avoid possible fallout from the arrest and since it might be a better place to wait out the influenza epidemic that is sweeping the country. Her new home allows her to reconnect with the family of her first love, Stephen, now a soldier fighting in the war.
I loved the relationship, though short-lived, between Mary Shelly and Stephen. Winters does a great job in showing how much they cared for one another in their brief moments together from exchanging letters, sweet memories, as well as the horror and anxiety when Stephen suddenly begins to haunt Mary Shelley.
Winters’ impeccable research is evidently shown from the popularity of spiritualism in which anxiety and fear increases as the toll from war and disease climb and sends families grasping at anything to alleviate their pain.    Some readers have commented that the plot of the book seems to mutate into different genres, but I disagree. Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the period of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity. The pacing of the book moves quite nicely and I kept turning the pages because I had to find out why Stephen haunts Mary Shelly and whether or not he truly died under the usual circumstances. I’d definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as a murder mystery with a hint of a romance.

Availability: This book is available in the Juvenile Fiction collection.

Readalikes: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey or The fairy ring, or, Elsie and Frances fool the world by Mary Losure 

Reviewed by: Rummanah


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