In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Young Adult/Historical Fiction
Overall Rating: 4.5 (xoxo)
Quick & Dirty summary: Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelly Black has little family left. After her father is jailed for helping men escape the draft, she travels to San Diego to live with her aunt. While there she learns of the death of her sweetheart who at seventeen had gone off to war. With the flu pandemic wrecking havoc at home and Germany wrecking havoc abroad, 1918 is a difficult year for everyone to live through, let alone a young girl haunted by her beloved’s death. But as a woman who believes in science, Mary Shelly is challenged to discover the mystery surrounding her sweetheart’s family while staying alive in a world gone terribly wrong.
This is a beautifully written book. It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve finished, thinking about how terrible the world can be, and yet how love can transform the world into a place that makes one grateful to be alive. I love the historical nature of this novel. The difficulties of being a young girl in the 1900s are slightly different than today, yet Cat Winters is able to make me feel like I am Mary Shelly Black. That Mary Shelly Black is a girl I could meet tomorrow, conducting an experiment or taking apart her telephone. It is a great writer who can create characters historically accurate but timelessly appealing.
I haven’t read a young adult novel in quite a few years, but it’s always a little surprising how melancholy the genre in general seems to be. From dystopian novels like The Hunger Games, to science fiction like Harry Potter, these novels deal with some really heavy topics. Winters addresses a number of them including gender issues, religion, the ethics of war, and of course, young love. Perhaps most interesting to me is how Mary Shelly navigates various opinions about WWI, coming to no overarching conclusion except sadness. It’s one of my favorite lessons on from this book: the incredible sadness of war.
The trappings of this book are also incredibly interesting. The tension between science and paranormal beliefs has a whole new meaning within our current context of scary movies, science fiction, and magicians. Also, the murder mystery elements to the book lends itself well to the crime scene fad. There is so much to this novel that makes it attractive. It would have garnered 5 stars from me except I’m not sure I can re-read it. I’m glad I read it, but it left me a little sad at the end and since I tend to take on the emotions in the books I read, I have to be careful.
Is it worth buying? (Kindle $6.43)
Isn’t that an odd price, $6.43? I’m not sure why it’s that price, but it is well worth it. I borrowed this book from the library and after I read it I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a long wait for it. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Something else you might enjoy:
This isn’t a romance, but I loved A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It’s another great coming of age book that transports you to another time. I also loved My Antonia by Willa Cather for similar reasons, except this is written from a young man’s viewpoint. These are beautifully written works of classic literature, but I think they fall well within the same graceful lines that Cat Winters has set with In the Shadow of Blackbirds.