Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

4.4 16
by Cat Winters

See All Formats & Editions

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


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. At 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?
Featuring haunting archival early-20th-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black lives up to her striking name—she’s a curious girl fascinated by science, living in 1918, “a year the devil designed,” as Mary puts it. With WWI raging on and Mary’s father on trial for treason, she goes to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego, Calif., even as influenza sweeps across America, devastating the population and rendering those left behind paranoid and weary. Grieving for her childhood beau Stephen, who died while fighting overseas with the Army, Mary goes outside during a thunderstorm and is struck dead by lightning—for a few minutes. When Mary comes to, she discovers she can communicate with the dead, including Stephen. Winters’s masterful debut novel is an impressively researched marriage of the tragedies of wartime, the 1918 flu epidemic, the contemporaneous Spiritualism craze, and a chilling love story and mystery. Unsettling b&w period photographs appear throughout, à la Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, greatly adding to the novel’s deliciously creepy atmosphere. Ages 12–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Agency. (Apr.)
VOYA - Diane Colson
In 1918, a virulent influenza virus is raging across the nation, while an endless war in Europe continues to devour young soldiers in its terrible trenches. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is seriously tired of wearing surgical masks and stinking of onion. When her father is arrested for treason, Mary Shelley travels to San Diego to stay with her aunt Eva. This also serves as an opportunity for her to reconnect with the special guy she has known since childhood, Stephen. She catches him on the day before he leaves to fight in the war. Nevertheless, their passionate last meeting is enough to establish the love they must now express through letter writing . . . until Stephen's letters stop coming. The nearness of death creates constant tension in this novel. All of the historical elements—fascination with seances, women working long days in factories, young men severely disfigured by the war—are rolled naturally into Mary Shelley's quest to discover Stephen's fate. Romance fans will love Stephen's ghostly visits to Mary Shelley, confirming that their romance is as steamy as ever. Mystery lovers will enjoy the satisfactory resolution of the puzzle. Of particular interest is Winters's treatment of the condition of "shell shock," which becomes relevant each time there is a war. Recommend this title to fans of Libba Bray's The Diviners (Little, Brown 2012/Voya August 2012). Reviewer: Diane Colson
Children's Literature - Kasey Giard
After Mary Shelley's father is arrested as a traitor, she flees to her aunt's home in southern California, safe from the ugliness of war and the Spanish Influenza epidemic. When Mary Shelley arrives, she finds the flu epidemic as alive and dangerous as it was in her Oregon hometown, and her childhood sweetheart, now a US soldier, apparently missing. With so many families grieving loved ones lost to war or disease, many people turn to Spiritualism, seeking help from famed photographer who claims to capture spirits of dearly departed in his portraits of the living. Mary Shelley's aunt presses her into sitting for a portrait, but no one is more surprised than Mary Shelley when the foggy image of Stephen, her love and missing soldier appears with her in the photograph. Soon after, Stephen's ghost visits Mary Shelley, clearly frightened and disturbed. Refusing to accept the public story of his death, Mary Shelley vows to uncover the truth about Stephen's death and find some way to help him rest in peace. While the story brings to life an important period in American history, capturing the desperation of World War I and the fear of the flu epidemic, some of the other elements seems almost at war with themselves. Mary Shelley is devoted to science and scientific understanding and staunchly believes that the spiritualism craze is bogus and full of dishonest vendors taking advantage of families of war and flu victims. She decries both the seance and the photographs of her with spirits, yet firmly believes in the encounters she has with Stephen's ghost, and never really explores why she believes one and not the others, or whether other people may be able to contact spirits. Some of the scenes where Mary Shelley visits Stephen's ghost leave Mary Shelley longing for him and yet those scenes were creepy. It was hard to understand her fascination and longing for him, though her desire to see him at peace is a noble one. Reviewer: Kasey Giard
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—The year is 1918. World War I is killing millions of boys abroad, and the flu pandemic is killing millions of Americans at home. People are increasingly desperate, looking to Spiritualism and folk remedies to help them speak to dead loved ones and survive the flu. After her father is jailed for anti-Americanism, Mary Shelley Black, 16, must go live with her aunt in San Diego. There she is confronted with memories of her first love, Stephen, who is away at war. She is also forced to face Julius, Stephen's bully of an older brother who is making a fortune as a "Spiritualist Photographer," a photographer who can capture ghosts in images. She also meets Mr. Darning, a man with a broken heart who is trying to prove that Julius is a fake. After Mary Shelley learns of Stephen's "heroic" death, she is visited by his suffering ghost. His spirit is delusional and scared, and Mary Shelley suspects there is a terrible reason he's not at rest. Did Stephen really die on the frontline? How are Julius and Mr. Darning involved? Winters deftly combines mystery, ghost story, historical fiction, and romance. The character development is not deep, but the excellent pacing and deliciously creepy descriptions of Spiritualism more than make up for it; the story and setting are atmospheric and eerie. Black-and-white photos are scattered throughout the book, giving context to the time period.—Laura Lutz, Pratt Institute, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
A bright young woman is caught between science and spiritualism in her quest to make sense of a world overcome with war and disease in 1918 California. Mary Shelley Black's world has been turned upside down by the arrest of her father at their home in Portland, Ore. It is 1918, and the country is at war; those who speak out against it, like her father, find themselves persecuted. Mary Shelley flees to her Aunt Eva in San Diego to avoid possible fallout from the arrest and since it might be a better place to wait out the influenza epidemic that is sweeping the country. Her new home allows her to reconnect with the family of her first love, Stephen, now a soldier fighting in the war. This place is just as full of anxiety and fear as Portland, the toll from war and disease sending her families grasping at anything to alleviate their pain. Stephen's distasteful half brother, Julius, exploits those fears and the growing interest in the occult by serving as a "spirit photographer"--an occupation Mary Shelley is skeptical of until Stephen is killed and she is visited by his ghost. Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the tenor of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity. Vintage photographs contribute to the authenticity of the atmospheric and nicely paced storytelling. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Amulet Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)
HL800L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Cat Winters is the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, which received three starred reviews and was a finalist for YALSA’s Morris Award for debut YA fiction. She grew up near Disneyland in Southern California. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

In the Shadow of Blackbirds 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
BethanyL More than 1 year ago
This book is so many things: atmospheric, tense, suspenseful, heartbreaking, but also, uplifting, pro-feminist, a dash steampunk, and just, overall, really really good. What’s more, the book is set in 1918, a year full of things that, in hindsight, seemed dystopian, almost post-apocalyptic, which is terrifying when you remember that everything that Cat Winters describes actually was happening in 1918—World War I was raging on, the Spanish flu was killing the young people the war wasn’t, Spiritualism was sweeping the nation (and a lot of parts of Europe), science was doing it’s best to advance so as to help with the war effort, and a paranoid xenophobia gripped the majority of Americans. Winters does an incredible job of balancing all of these factors and peppers the story with enough of each that you really understand just how strange a year, and time, it was. The main character, Mary Shelley is wonderfully odd—as a protagonist, she doesn’t really seem weird because everything is told from her point of view, but when she interacts with other characters, it becomes clear that this girl is definitely not normal for her time—she’s curious, smart, observant, determined, and brave. She’s in love with science and electricity and has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth. However, her story isn’t really a happy one. As mirrors the time, Mary Shelley’s life is full of tragedy, sorrow, and loss. In a way she’s conditioned to it, and though she’s learned from her losses to be strong, she still feels the weight of loss, which is evident when she realizes she’s being haunted by the ghost of her childhood crush. Overall, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a beautifully haunting story about a girl and a ghost, but also about a time and place in American history that is haunting in and of itself.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
It is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake. When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public. In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs. When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters' first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014. Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life. While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death. Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres. Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Andrea17 More than 1 year ago
Mary Shelley - can I just say who much I love her name? - is sent to live with her Aunt Eva after her father is sent to prison for crimes against the US. Reasoning behind this is that the weather in San Diego is warmer than Portland and therefore it is less likely she'll contract the Spanish Flu. Between that theory and that onions warded off the germs, I'm not sure which I find to be more ridiculous. Of course, they were scared and didn't know any better, so I can't fault them that. I do however like that Winters adds all these historical tidbits into her novel. It enhances the story and creates a realism and storyline outside of Mary Shelley being haunted. These little details, along with the focus on Spiritualism, creates a foreboding tone to the novel. It's not just a story about a ghost, but a story of survival in a terrifying time period. The desperation people felt in needing to know that there was an afterlife, that death wasn't the end. Men, women, children, babies are all dying of an airborne flu that came from nowhere (and left just as quickly). Soldiers are dying over seas. Any minute could be your last. Whoa, I just went to a scary place, didn't I? But that's the feeling you get from this book! Mary Shelley has just lost the one boy she loved to this war and as she's trying to deal with her loss, his ghost shows up in her bedroom. Repeatedly. I did not get enough of Mary Shelley and pre-ghost Stephen. His death hurts me as I can envision these two really having a future together. (Part of me thinks I am more angrier over his death than Mary Shelley, but that sounds silly. Right?) I found Mary Shelley to be a strong and likable character. Once she realized that Stephen is being hurt by something - or thinks he is - and cannot pass on, she is bound and determined to help him, despite not having any idea of how to do so. After a trip to the library to research war, life after death, among other things to help Stephen, she heads over to a Red Cross house to volunteer to help the wounded soldiers. I found this scene to be incredibly moving. Winters powerful narration once again comes into play as she describes the scene. Solider with missing limbs, disfigured faces, some doped up on morphine, others staring into space, and one particular soldier who cannot stop crying over the horrors he has seen. I was extremely impressed with Mary Shelley's behavior while in the Red Cross building. My favorite part was when she starts reading Tom Sawyer to the soldiers as "the world's been getting the best of [her], too" (204) and she knows these men need something to distract their thoughts. The narration was strong, the characters believable, the setting perfectly chosen. I was sucked into the novel and flew through the last 200-something pages because I could not put it down. I had to find out why Stephen wasn't passing on, why he was haunting Mary Shelley, and how everything was going to unfold. While this wasn't the horror novel I had been excepting, it in no way took away from my enjoyment. I wasn't up all night with the lights on, but I was definitely creeped out. There is something to be said for your dead boyfriend's ghost popping up in your bedroom in the middle of the night.
BarbaraSissel More than 1 year ago
People always seem to speak of our current time in history as the worst the world has seen, but consider 1918. Not only was the world embroiled in a brutal war that was killing thousands, but lives were also being lost to the Spanish flu, an outbreak so huge and widespread it was labeled a pandemic. People wore gauze masks. They chewed cloves of garlic and hung them from their necks, and they died like flies anyway. The fear and grief that was spawned as a result, that must have hung in the air like a shroud, gave rise to a near frenzied interest in spiritualism, in ghosts, in ways to talk to the ones we love who have passed. It must have seemed that Armageddon had come. I felt that it had from the very first page of Cat Winter’s beautifully written, eerily atmospheric debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. The story is categorized variously as horror and paranormal, and the reading audience is YA. But that seems too limiting for this novel’s sweep. It has an almost “ripped from the headlines” kind of feel to it as if it could be happening now, and all of it were true. It’s a riveting read, and not just for kids, either. There’s so much wisdom in the words, in the story that’s developed on several levels. There’s a lot to ponder. One of the lessons that seems clear, at least to me, is how indomitable the human spirit is. It comes through the wonderfully drawn main character, Mary Shelley. This is a novel that teaches about a long ago time in history, that has lessons for today. And the photographs that are included with the story are compelling and chilling, like iced frosting on an already scrumptious cake.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the slang of conversation and the darkness hidden in the world! It was great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It starts off fast and once you start its hard to put down!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Not only was it suspenseful, but it showed that love is such a strong force and can survive even death. I would highly recommend this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had some great things going for it. First of all, it puts you right in the middle of the flu epidemic in the US during WWI. It's one of the most realistic portrayals of this time period I have ever read and I really could tangibly feel what it must have been like to wear the cumbersome masks and literally see death across the street. The supernatural bits of the story, while starting out strong, disappointed me in the end. There is a great twist in the story towards the end, and it does keep you guessing as to the true fate of one of the main characters, but the ending was very anti-climactic. People looking for a 'happily ever after' in their books will not find one here, and it left me feeling more than a bit unsatisfied at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ive only read the first two chapters anf i LOVE this book already just something with wars slavary and other exciting historical topics get me overwhelmed that and mysteries:3
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having lived in San Diego, I was instantly swept up by Cat Winters' IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS—set in a sepia-toned San Diego shrouded in death and fear. Setting this ghost story during a war and the outbreak of Spanish influenza was genius—the creepiness lingers heavy over everything that occurs. Mary Shelley Black, the main character, is one of the smartest teenage characters I've read in a long time—calm, strong, and curious in the midst of absolute chaos. Winters also writes some great hot and heavy scenes between Mary and her childhood friend Stephen, and the attraction and agony between them is almost visceral as you try to unravel the mystery behind Stephen's death. I was completely absorbed in, and creeped out by, this novel—a beautiful and haunting debut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book.is excellent. A slightly scary twist to a love story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What is this about exactly i mean it was on my recommendations list but is the list comepletely accurate??