Thursday, October 31, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
by Cat Winters
Amulet Books, 2013
Audience:  Grades 8 to 12
ISBN:  9781419705304
Publication Date: April 2, 2013

Spirit photography, World War I, Spanish Influenza-oh my!  If that isn't enough to make you shiver, maybe the main character, Mary Shelley Black, will.  Mary Shelley has been sent to San Diego from Portland to not only escape the flu, but also hide while her father is on trial for being a traitor to the country.  Once in San Diego, she starts asking about her friend, Stephen, who recently went to war in France and has not written letters in months.  Instead she finds his brother, Julius scamming mourners with spirit photos, and worse, Mary Shelley is his poster child.  She sits for one final photo, but the spirit behind her is Stephen, and he starts haunting her, begging her to make them stop killing him.  Mary Shelley tries to put Stephen's soul to rest while trying to stay alive herself.


I first heard about at ALA while randomly chatting with another librarian.  It went on my to-read list and this felt like the perfect time of year to read a book full of spirits and hauntings and death.  Mary Shelley was named after the author of Frankenstein, but at a time when German hatred is high, she tries to hide that part of herself.  Also, her mother was a doctor and Mary Shelley inherited that passion for science and technology.  She is a curious, but compassionate girl.  The work that she does at the Red Cross Home is very touching since she refuses to treat the soldiers like invalids and instead tries to cheer them up.  She wants to treat them the way that Stephen should be treated.

In addition to all of the shivery plot points, there is a very real message about the effects of war.  Stephen suffered from shell shock or post-traumatic stress, as we would say today.  This was shameful to his family and difficult for him as well.  When he came back to Mary Shelley, he was angry and confused and it was very hard for her to help him.  They did love each other dearly, and all Mary Shelley wants is justice for Stephen, but that is not an easy task when he is terrifying in his fits and can give no real reason for why he died.

Once Mary Shelley starts to piece together the time line of Stephen's death, the reader will understand what happened, but there is still a last minute twist that will having readers shaking their heads.  It's that last little twist that makes it all so haunting and terrible.  Readers will be shocked for Stephen and Mary Shelley and all you can do it keep reading, hoping it will all work out.

My biggest problem with this book was remembering the title.  Honestly, I kept thinking it was A Cat Among Blackbirds, or Shadows of Blackbirds, or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Stephens (totally different person by the way!).  When you can say that the worst thing about the book is that you confuse the title, you know it's good.  

For a good spooky book for a dark Halloween night, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is the perfect choice.

Happy Reading

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