IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters: Powerful YA Fiction Set During the 1918 Flu Epidemic

I’m not alone in recognizing this book as stunning:

014 William C. Morris Award Finalist
2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2013

Imagine if the tragedy of a world war were happening at the same time as millions of people dying from the influenza.  Cat Winters weaves a meticulously researched book about this dire time.  Her characters are also caught up in the Spiritualism craze that is gripping much of the world.  The madness of life at the time– sickness, war, and a desperate search for answers–is captured in this YA novel that is also a love story and a mystery.  Portlander Mary Shelley Black is our protagonist, and must travel from Oregon to San Diego to stay with her aunt when her anti-war father is imprisoned.  At 16 years old, she is looking forward to being reunited with her childhood friend (and penpal) Stephen Embers.  Their correspondence has blossomed into first love, and when they are re-united, she learns he has enlisted and will be leaving right away for the front in France.  As the plot unfolds, readers learn about the ways that the  grief-stricken population  is being duped by “spirit photography.”  But as events get stranger and stranger, Mary Shelley comes to believe that connection to “the other side”may be possible.  There are elements of the fantasy and horror genres in this historical fiction, and they are used (successfully, I believe) not only to enlighten about the historical period, but to create compelling metaphors for the times.

I appreciate the inclusion of historical photos , as well as the Author’s Notes, which tell of the events on which she based her tale.  Strongly recommended for the YA crowd.

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