In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Rating: 5 (million) Stars
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
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?
Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
I am in love. With this book. 😍😍😍
A long time ago, my favorite genre was historical fiction. And then I discovered the wonder that is YA fantasy, and I was a goner.
But it’s books like Blackbirds that make me remember just how much I truly love historical fiction, and how much I miss it. So not only was this book absolutely phenomenal, it has reawakened a love, so yay book!!
THIS WAS SO GOOD. WHAT ARE WORDS. In The Shadow of Blackbirds was so well written in every aspect. I cannot think of a single thing that wasn’t perfect about it.
One of the best things about this book was the vivid atmosphere. Back when I loved historical fiction so much, I also had a strange fascination with the Spanish Influenza. But Blackbirds shows the harsh, frightening reality of the horror and fear that permeated that time in a way that no children’s book I read ever did. Blackbirds put me right in the middle of it, and I could feel the uncertainty and dread that the characters felt. And there were details like the flu masks they wore and the onion soup they ate that made everything feel so real and vivid. Blackbirds also perfectly captured the time period and its spiritualism craze. The way the characters spoke and acted and dressed made me feel certain I was in 1918 with my flu mask and photographs. If it weren’t for the characters, I’d easily be able to say the setting and atmosphere were my favorite parts of this book.
But I absolutely LOVE Mary Shelley. So much. Her voice was so clear, and her personality practically leaped off the page. Cat Winters did an excellent job of showing us her personality through little details, like the aviation goggles and Boy Scout boots she wore. Mary Shelley was also just such a fun narrator. Her voice was engaging and often funny, and so fleshed out. She also goes through some really nice character development.
There’s also a sweet, sweet romance that is very unusual. BUT not in a weird way. It’s touching and perfect and now I’m rambling because my feels are all over the place. And it’s so understated!! And not contrived!! And no instalove!! No ANYTHING except PERFECTION.
I also loved her aunt Eva’s character. She’s entirely different from Mary Shelley, but just as developed, and the relationship between them was really sweet and multilayered, and deepened and changed a lot over the course of the book.
Really, every character in this book was phenomenal. Not a single one felt dry or flat; each had their own personality and motives. Ugh, I’m just so blown away right now.
And of course, I liked the actual plot. Blackbirds is a ghost story. Somehow I did not know this before I started reading. (I read the synopsis when I added it to my TBR months ago and am terrible at remembering what books are about before I read them, OH MY GOODNESS.) And it actually creeped me out. A lot. (Even though this book isn’t actually that scary – it’s probably because I believe in ghosts and shouldn’t be reading ghost stories at night. *AHEM*) Also blackbirds creep me out already, so that did not help matters. But the mystery was so well woven into the story and so compelling and engaging. And I LOVED it. Also, Blackbirds was slow without being boring, which is basically my FAVORITE THING EVER.
I also thought the blackbirds were a nice metaphor for the overarching effects of the war and flu, so that was fun to think about.
Really, this was one of the best books I’ve read in ages, and I already want to read it again. IT WAS PERFECT. There were no cliches, no overused tropes, etc. IT WAS SO PERFECT I’M CRYING. And you should read it too.
Have you read this book? Have you heard of it?? It doesn’t seem to be that popular which is SO SO SO SAD. Also, when are you going to read this book if you haven’t already read it?? And I really want more YA historical fiction now. Any suggestions?
** A couple instances of very light swearing.