Friday, April 5, 2013
Me on In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Amulet (Abrams imprint)
In 1918, the world seems to be on the verge of an apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men off 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 has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she's forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death when her first love, a boy who died in battle, returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds is rich with history and mystery, a curious tale of am intelligent girl searching through clues and struggling to survive in a dangerous time. This book draws on fear, fear of disease, war, and foreign spies, and combines them with the morbid curiosity of contacting the spirit world that arose in the early 20th century. An intriguing mystery, taking place in a time where concerns are not unlike those currently faced.
One thing historical novels do is introduce readers to the idea that, while certain events took place in the past, they're not so dissimilar from those they've personally seen or read about. In Mary Shelley's 1918, America is struggling to fight an overseas war, neighbours are suspicious of neighbours who have foreign-sounding names, and a disease that no one is sure how to cure is running rampant. I'm curious as to how many other readers will think back to other events of the past 100 years, most recently, the illnesses and overseas battles that populated the news and covered the western world in fear in the early 21st century.
Mary Shelley is an interesting girl, intelligent and perhaps a little eccentric. She strikes me as a girl who grew up in the early 1900's with a liberal father who taught her what most girls weren't taught. She has a rather analytical mind, she's constantly questioning and searching. Then, her practicality mixes with the spirit world when she encounters a familiar ghostly face.
The increased interest in the spirit world and departed loves ones is a curious thing. During a time where the world was in chaos, when everyone feared the worst was coming, some looked to the other side, to passed away loved ones for comfort. I'm curious as to what some were looking for. Perhaps a sense that they weren't alone, that their family was always with them. Perhaps they were looking for evidence of a sort of existence after death. Then again, perhaps it was something else entirely.
Interspersed between the chapters of this book are photographs from the early 20th century. A previously published example would be Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Unfortunately, the photographs didn't work for me here as they did with Riggs' book. The pictures, yes, draw on Mary Shelley's experiences and encounters, but I felt no personal connection to them, no direct connection to the scene or chapter as with Jacob and his encounters on the island. There was a consistency to those photographs that isn't present here, it feel more like these images were slipped in. (Of course, I am curious as to how the photographs will look in the finished copy, perhaps that will make a difference.)
This is an intriguing historical mystery, based on real events and worries, anchored by a very intelligent girl searching for the truth in a very dangerous year, but the addition of time period-accurate photographs felt unnecessary.
(I acquired an advance copy at ALA Midwinter.)