Just Finished Reading …. In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
by Cat Winters

To be published by Amulet Books
on April 2, 2013

Source: e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for possible review.

Buzzwords: World War I, spiritualist photography, PTSD, Spanish Influenza, shellshock, opium, spunky heroines

Connect with the author: Twitter : website: Facebook.

Summary (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?
My take: In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a unique and haunting story, beautifully told. It's rare that I read historical YA fiction in which the main character actually seems like a teenager. Mary Shelley Black seems not only like a real teen, but also a teen of her time. She's smart and stubborn and a little rebellious, and you can literally feel her chafing against the limitations on women in 1918, a time in which men had gone off to war, but most American women were still not allowed to vote.

I loved the way In the Shadow of Blackbirds took some real and fascinating issues of the time -- World War I, the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and spiritualist photography -- and wove together a story that is both incredibly gripping and truly spooky. Mary is interested in science and electricity, and also  has just fallen in love for the first time. Her world falls apart as her father is imprisoned for helping men evade the draft, her true love Stephen is sent to the battlefield, and she is sent from Portland to San Diego to live with her aunt.

In her new home, Mary has to deal with her aunt's paranoia about flu germs (to be fair, the flu killed hundreds of millions of people worldwide) and Stephen's brother's desire for her to help him in his spiritualist photography business. As people perished, both in the war and from the flu, these photographers promised grieving family members a glimpse of their loved ones.

As bad news comes about Stephen, Mary also has to solve a mystery: what happened to him? For me, this part of the book was truly spooky, evoking not only the horrors of war, but also questions about ghosts and the afterlife.

I highly recommend this one if you're feeling like you need something really fresh and different, if you're a lover of historical fiction and/or ghost stories, or if you just love a good story, compellingly told.


  1. Oh this book was so good-I loved just about everything about it: from the influenza to the spiritualism to even the scary parts. Very unique and wonderful!

  2. I have this one from NG too and am looking forward to reading it. My last YA book on spiritualism was a bust, so maybe this one will be more my speed. And you gotta love that awesome cover:)

  3. I always say that I hate historical and love ghost stories, but the opposite seems to be true. This one might be just about perfect for me. It sounds fantastic.

  4. From the cover, this book didn't really do anything for me, or actually it kind of creeped me out. But I actually really like that it is historical fiction set in a very stressful time in history. I find the influenza/war/spiritualist movement combination pretty fascinating. I don't automatically pick up ghost stories, but this one does sound like it has the potential to be really good.

  5. This is one of those books I wouldn't have gave a 2nd glance to, but I've heard such good things about it that I'm really looking forward to it now. I'm kind of picky about the historical fiction I read, and this sounds like a good one.

  6. This is high up on my list. I may need to get it tomorrow when I'm near the bookstore. I love the cover and the haunting vibe. Plus I'm a sucker for any 20th-century-set YA right now.

  7. I probably wouldn't enjoy this one but it does sound interesting and well written.

  8. I have 100 pages left so I skimmed your review but I really like it so far! It's been very interesting.

  9. I do love ghost stories, but I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction. I have seen a lot of mixed reviews on this one so I don't think I will be picking it up. I don't think it's really a book for me. Great review hon!

  10. I have been seeing this book around and to be honest is looks scary. The whole cover just freaks me out! LOL

  11. Winters really did weave all of the elements together masterfully. This book makes me smile.

  12. I really love historical's but I have not yet read many as you describe of this book. It sounds like its really beautifully written and the author did her homework <3 great review


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