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Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

April 30, 2013

Title: In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Format: eGalley

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?—from Goodreads

This book is so many things: atmospheric, tense, suspenseful, heartbreaking, but also, uplifting, pro-feminist, a dash steampunk, and just, overall, really really good.

Really.

What’s more, the book is set in 1918, a year full of things that, in hindsight, seemed dystopian, almost post-apocalyptic, which is terrifying when you remember that everything that Cat Winters describes actually was happening in 1918—World War I was raging on, the Spanish flu was killing the young people the war wasn’t, Spiritualism was sweeping the nation (and a lot of parts of Europe), science was doing it’s best to advance so as to help with the war effort, and a paranoid xenophobia gripped the majority of Americans. Winters does an incredible job of balancing all of these factors and peppers the story with enough of each that you really understand just how strange a year, and time, it was.

The main character, Mary Shelley is wonderfully odd—as a protagonist, she doesn’t really seem weird because everything is told from her point of view, but when she interacts with other characters, it becomes clear that this girl is definitely not normal for her time—she’s curious, smart, observant, determined, and brave. She’s in love with science and electricity and has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth. However, her story isn’t really a happy one. As mirrors the time, Mary Shelley’s life is full of tragedy, sorrow, and loss. In a way she’s conditioned to it, and though she’s learned from her losses to be strong, she still feels the weight of loss, which is evident when she realizes she’s being haunted by the ghost of her childhood crush.

Overall, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a beautifully haunting story about a girl and a ghost, but also about a time and place in American history that is haunting in and of itself.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

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