Hardcover, 400 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Amulet Books
Source: ALA midwinter conference
Challenge: Debut Authors 2013
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?
I could have met Cat Winters at the ALA midwinter conference in Seattle. The thing is, we had scheduled a food tour at the same time she was signing and well…food won. As it is wont to do where I am concerned. Anyway, I wish I had met her because let me tell you this, In The Shadow of Blackbirds is fantastic. It really is. I liked it so much that it is currently a contender for the best YA debut of the year award that happens annually in my head. My head, I tell you, the place to go for fun.
Anyway, Mary Shelley Black is my kind of heroine. Funny, sassy and questioning. She doesn’t sit down and let life come to her. She puts on her goggles and goes looking for it. The novel is set at a time in America that I really have no clue about. People are dying all around due to the Spanish influenza and everyone seems to be really loving the onions at this time. Because onions have germ killing skills or something? I am not sure. Anyway, so Shells is a skeptic where ghosts and spirit mediums and images are concerned. She doesn’t believe in them.
But when her first love allegedly dies at war, and she dies after being struck by lightning (don’t worry, she’s revived), she begins to experience things that cannot be explained by science. There are other revelations made in the course of the narrative. There are moments of passion, moments of terror and moments of introspection. The book owes its success to the beautiful prose that is moderately lyrical and contains images that hit you right there. There is an atmosphere of desperation, dirt and helpless sorrow that threatens to consume everything in its path to annihilation.
There is a mystery too that appears gradually and just…I loved this novel. I don’t even have any criticisms for the way it handled anything. Gender constructions are interesting and the romance is honest – sincere, nothing coquettish about Shells.
The book is brilliant. And you should read it. Oh yes, the photographs add to the atmosphere of the novel. The novel is different from others in the YA genre. It has a stark beauty that is reminiscent of When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellison. Must be a Cat thing, eh? Anyway, READ THIS, you guys. It’s brilliant.