Title: In The Shadow of Blackbirds
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Paranormal
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Awards: William C. Morris YA Debut Nominee (2013), Bram Stoker for Best Young Adult Novel winner (2014), Oregon Spirit Book Award for Young Adults (2013), Missouri Gateway Readers Nominee (2013)
Goodreads Synopsis: 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?
This was another random pick; I was a library looking for something for my husband, and then wandered to the YA shelves. Based on the synopsis and critical acclaim on the back alone, I was hooked. I read more than 100 pages that night and when I was done, I knew I finished something amazing. So here’s 5 reasons why more people need to read this book!
- No ridiculous, popular YA tropes: You read right. This debut novel has no love triangle, miscommunication, instalove, etc. I look for YA books that have more substance; my personal preferences have changed a lot since high school. But I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of many popular YA tropes like: “strong” female that has no conscious for human life and others mentioned earlier. This book hits you hard with the harsh reality of the events happening in 1918 and it’s a welcome novel in the YA genre.
- Creepy spirit photography and mystery: From the synopsis, Mary Shelley is trying to figure out what’s going on with Stephen. Being more of a science woman, she doubts the trend of seances, spirit photography and other things people did back then to find answers. But after a few things happen, she begins to question what’s real as well as the supernatural. The mystery is creepy and the tension keeps raising as she tries to uncover the truth.
- Beautiful and grounded writing: Cat Winters’s debut novel is gem of YA writing. I was moved consistently while reading. I dog eared many pages (it was temporary) with all these amazing quotes listed here. The writing is honest, sad, creepy and all around a voice that you feel was truly transported to 1918.
“The boys who gave you odd looks don’t appreciate originality.” (pg. 37)
“Cots crowded both sides of the passageways-temporary beds for shivering flu victims who curled on their sides and coughed up blood. I saw cheekbones covered in mahogany spots and entire faces an unnatrual reddish purple, which, like black feet, signified the end.” (pg. 94)
“I know the world seems terrifying right now and the future seems bleak. Just remember that human beings have always managed to find the greatest strength within themselves during the darkest hours. When faced with the worst horrors the world has to offer, a person either cracks and succumbs to ugliness, or they salvage the inner core of who they are and fight to right wrongs.” (pg. 106)
“That old bully Death breathed down my neck and nipped at my skin, warning, Don’t waste one spare second of time. If there are things you want to accomplish while you’re still alive, you’d better do them soon. I’m coming.” (pg. 148)
“Sometimes our strength of spirit forces us to choose truth and integrity over comfort and security.” (pg. 176)
“In sepia-hued and color-tinted images, his view of the world unfolded for me across the glossy photographic paper. Golden clouds rolled in from the ocean’s horizon at the brink of sunset. Sandpipers waded in foamy seawater that looked as frothy as the top of a lemon meringue pie. California missions stood against a backdrop of clear skies, their adobe walls cracked and crumbling and faded with time. Fields of wild poppies brought beauty and life to the dry desert floor. Biplanes glided over the Pacific, casting wrinkled shadows across the blue-tinged waves.” (pg. 385)
4. Characters: All the characters were flawed, but masterfully created and had their won individual voices. Mary Shelley is a character I grew to love and care about. After her father is accused of not being loyal to America, she flees to stay with her aunt. Her aunt is caught up in the mass panic over the flu, home remedies and Mary’s unwinding sanity. Julius, Stephen’s older brother, is accused of being a fake spirit photographer, all the while being arrogant, frustrated and mysterious. Other characters are distraught, afraid, ill and all too human. These people were afraid for their lives and their loved ones. Each person feels real enough to talk with.
5. Themes: As it was almost 100 years ago, this book shows the paranoia, desperation, war and also humanity that we still have today. We’re afraid of more disease, death and war on our countries. But within the darkness of this novel, we also see love, kindness and hope. We see other people reading to wounded soldiers, carrying loved ones to ambulances, letting a loved one be at peace, remember those love and using our inner strength to overcome adversities. The humanity is this book is beautiful and makes me want to be a better person. If you need a book that shows humanity and love admist darkness, this atmospheric book is for you.
I hope you enjoyed this review. I don’t think my review does quite enough justice to how much I love this book. It is dark at times and parts are hard to read, but that’s how life is. But Cat Winters delivered a knock out debut novel that needs to be experienced. You’ll learn more about the 1918 period and see how a girl changes with the circumstances that come upon her. This book will stay with me for a long time and you can tell that’s an amazing book if it can do that to you.
Have you read this book? Have you enjoyed other books by Cat Winters? Any other recommendations of books that take place in the early 1900’s?