Reviews for In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Booklist Reviews 2013 April #2
*Starred Review* Winters' debut ropes in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, WWI shell shock, national prejudice, and spirit photography, and yet never loses focus from its primary thesis: desperation will make people believe--and do--almost anything. Mary Shelley Black, 16, has been sent to live with her aunt in San Diego, a city crawling with gauze mask-wearing citizens fearful of catching the deadly virus. Loss is everywhere, which means booming business for spirit photographer Julius, the older brother of Mary's true love, Stephen, who is off fighting in the trenches. Stephen's death coincides with Mary suffering electrocution, an event with strange aftereffects: Mary sends compass needles spinning, can taste emotions, and begins to see and hear Stephen's ghost, in torment over the maniacal "birdmen" that tortured and killed him. Mary believes his spirit will rest when she uncovers the truth about his death--a truth more horrifying than most readers will expect. A scattering of period photos, including eerie examples of spirit photography, further the sense of time and place, but the main event here is Winters' unconventional and unflinching look at one of the darkest patches of American history. More than anything, this is a story of the breaking point between sanity and madness, delivered in a straightforward and welcoming teen voice. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
Against the graphic backdrop of the 1918 flu pandemic and the horrific physical condition of many soldiers returning from WWI, sixteen-year-old skeptic Mary Shelley Black begins to question her opinions about the spiritualist movement when she finds she's able to communicate with her deceased lover. This novel's vivid San Diego setting is enhanced with well-chosen archival photographs, but the plot is overburdened with events.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 March #1
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) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 February #2

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.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 June

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

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VOYA Reviews 2013 June
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 sťances, 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).--Diane Colson 4Q 5P J S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.