Thursday, January 10, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Cat Winters
Amulet, 2013
$16.95, Hardcover

Genre: Historical, Mystery, Paranormal
Age: 12+
Description: In 1918 and 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 is busy shipping young men to the front lines of a brutal war. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is living in an atmosphere of fear and confusion as she watches desperate mourners inspire the popularity of séances and the business of spirit photographers all for some hope of comfort. Mary Shelley, however, has never believed in ghosts. She is especially distrustful of her best friend Stephen’s older brother Julian who has taken over their father’s old photography studio and turned it into one of the most popular sprit photo businesses in San Diego. However, everything might be changing. Forced to flee her home in Oregon when her father, a man of German decent who talked back against the war, is arrested, she is sent to live with her widowed 26-year-old aunt in California. When she receives news that Stephen is dead, she doesn’t want to believe. However, when she starts seeing and communicating with his ghost she just might have to believe that Julian thinks she has a good connection with the “Other Side.” It is especially important for her since Stephen’s spirit seems troubled and his death seems to have maybe not occurred overseas. She has to face the facts that she may have mediumistic talents if it is the only way to put Stephen at peace.
Opinion: I was super, super, super excited to receive a copy of this book to review from Amulet. This is a big book (nearly 400 pages) and because of its historical nature the beginning might go a bit slow for some readers—slow but not necessarily boring. I think this book might be a bit cursed. Teens will pick it up because the cover is spooky but I feel the cover description really doesn’t do it justice. There is so much more to the story than just the spirit photography craze during World War I. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Mary Shelley, depressed at the thought of Stephen being dead and her father going to jail for at least 20 years, tries to kill herself—and succeeds. However, she ends up having a near death experience and astral projects outside of her body. She is urged to return and according to her aunt she just isn’t the same anymore. She appears to be magnetized (as her uncle’s old compass follows her around whenever she’s in the room) and her aunt feels an odd sense of peace when she touches Mary Shelley. It appears that her encounter with lightening has made her more attended to the spirit world and actually helps Stephen contact her. There are some awesome genuinely creepy scenes and the ending is shocking as we discover just what happened to Stephen. I love the cover as (asides from the schools not being Boy Scout boots the girl pictured is Mary Shelley in one of Julian’s spirit photos he took of her) and the book also incorporates many other haunting archival early-20th century photographs to add a sense of spookiness to the world. I highly recommend this book though you may have to hand sell it since the cover description totally doesn’t do it justice!

Here's what one of my teens had to say:

Sarah, 15, says, “It is 1918 and the world is facing World War I and the Spanish influenza, which is spreading throughout the U.S. Mary Shelley Black has always been fascinated with science. When her friend Stephen dies and his brother photographs Stephen’s spirit she doesn’t want to believe it. However, she soon begins having what appear to be real, genuine mediumistic encounters in which Stephen clearly isn’t happy and appears to have not died in battle. Mary sets out to try and find out what really killed him so Stephen can be at peace. I love the cover. It is almost the exact picture that Stephen’s brother takes of Mary in the book and uses, against her knowledge, as an advertisement for his spirit photography. (The only different is she has “Boy Scout boots” in the book and appears in the cover image to be wearing more girlie shoes.) I felt that it really reflected the historical aspect of the book and the spookiness. My favorite parts were when Mary died for a second time (I can’t believe Mary dies twice in the book! That’s crazy!) and when she found out how Stephen actually died. I like how she saw how he died when she sat on his bed—it was like she was transported there and was an eyewitness to the crime. I like that Mary was also a girl into science in a time period when all girls were supposed to do was get married. She was a feisty heroine.”

Note: A big thanks to my contact at Amulet, Laura Mihalick, for sending me an ARC to review!

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