Friday, April 5, 2013

Becky's View: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
by Cat Winters
♦publisher: Amulet books
♦release date: April 2nd, 2013
♦hardcover, 400 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦source: ALA midwinter
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.

Review:  In the mood for a good creepy tale? Something gut-wrenchingly gritty? A historically accurate mystery? Then In the Shadow of Blackbirds is what you want. Cat Winters haunting writing plunges you right into the midst of 1918 San Diego, CA, where young men are being shipped off to fight in World War I, the Spanish flu is taking the lives of millions, and people are clinging to the memories of their loved ones through the new fad of spiritualism and spirit photography.  It is a terrifying snapshot from our history and it sets the stage for this spine-tingling, ghostly mystery.

Our heroine is 16-year-old Mary Shelley Black, whose father has just been arrested for being a traitor. She travels to San Diego to stay with her Aunt Eva, in hopes that the warm sunny weather will lessen her risks of getting the flu.  Unfortunately, its just as rampant there, everyone wearing gauze masks, coming up with all manner of home remedies to fight off sickness, and living in absolute fear of each other.

I liked Mary immediately, she was smart and inquisitive, loved to take things apart and figure out how they work. It’s that gift of tinkering with things that brought her and Stephen together when they were just little kids. Their love story is one of my favorite kinds---love that grows over years and years of the characters’ lives, with so many shared memories of a childhood together. When Stephen doesn’t come back from the battlefield and Mary has her own brush with death, she begins seeing strange things and is suddenly able to taste the emotions of others. Stephen’s spirit comes to her again and again, sometime violently, to seek her help in finding peace with how he died.  The story takes some incredible turns and becomes a psychological and bloody mystery. 

The amount of research put in by the author to make this horrifying era come to life just blows my mind. Plus the imagination to create such a horror story full of creepy birds, eerie ghosts, the feeling of being surrounded by death,…and love. The story is accompanied by real photos from the era, and while they aren’t directly woven into the story the way we saw photos used in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, it still added a great flair to the story to see real shots of real people living through the events of 1918. I especially loved the inclusion of a few historical details at the end of the book that really connected this story with reality.  It’s an incredible debut and I’m at the edge of my seat to see what Cat Winters will bring us next. 
Find Cat Winters online:  Website  •  Twitter  •  Facebook

Purchase the book: Amazon  •  BookDepository  •  Indiebound


  1. This book is totally out of my comfort zone, but I think I'll give it a try anyway. It sounds like a dark, creepy book with a smart main character.
    Great review!! You've really changed my mind about this book (:

    Sapir @ Diary of a Wimpy Teen Girl

    1. Yay! Glad you're going to give it a try! Let me know what you think!

  2. This one sounds really cool! The premise reminds me of Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin, which I very much enjoyed. Just wondering – how gory would you say it is? I'm all for psychological mysteries but blood and gore do kinda ick me out, lol.

    1. Oh I'll have to pick up Picture the Dead---I loved reading about the spirit photography. Not going to lie, there are some pretty icky scenes in Blackbirds. Some of it comes from the ghostly stuff, but also just reading about the Spanish influenza was pretty stomach-turning.

      Such an awesome story though!

  3. This sounds VERY creepy indeed. I wasn't planning on reading this initially, mostly because the cover scared me. But the more I hear about it and how interesting it sounds and how the characters sound like people I'd like, I'm swayed to consider checking it out. Your review is really good - I think I'm convinced now!

    1. Hehe, the super creepy cover was what put this at the top of my must-read list! It's a fantastic story, definitely give it try but maybe read with the lights on! :D

  4. This book really intrigues me I have been hesitant to read this one because I am not a huge historical fan but, it has gotten so many great reviews and your's just might have convinced me to check it out. Thanks for your thoughts!

    KRistin @ Young Adult Book Haven

    1. Glad to help convince you! Don't worry, this reads nothing like a stuffy historical. Especially the characters--they seem just like people you would meet today.

  5. Amazing review, sweetie :D So glad you loved this book as well. <3 Sigh. It was just perfect. I loved the world Cat wrote about :)