Title: In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Rating: 4.5 Stars
"The road ahead may be rather upsetting for a sixteen-year-old girl. I'm afraid your delicate female eyes and ears will experience some ugliness."
"Oh, you silly, naive men." I shook my weary head and genuinely pitied their ignorance. "You've clearly never been a sixteen-year-old girl in the fall of 1918."
Cat Winters picks a time period of deep loss, fatigue, and fear to place her debut novel in, but it works perfectly. Although the aura is one of fear, for people are hiding away not just from officers determined to arrest any and all who seem pro-German, but they are hiding away from Death himself. Mary Shelley Black, the headstrong protagonist of our tale, has arrived in San Diego to live with her recently widowed aunt. Since her mother died during child birth and her father has been deemed a traitor, Mary is alone in the world but for her aunt and childhood sweetheart, Stephan, who is now fighting in the war. In San Diego, though, the people are slowly going mad, both from fear of the plague - eating nothing but onions and clutching their gauze masks to their faces - but also from the hope of seeing their deceased ones in spirit images. Julian, the older step-brother of Stephan, specializes in such images and Mary, ever a girl of practical knowledge and scientific learning, is skeptical of his claims. When Mary begins to see the spirit of Stephan, her first love, though, she turns her eye to the spiritual - and to the question of why Stephan can't find peace in the afterlife.
"Why can't a girl be smart without it being explained away as a rare supernatural phenomenon?"
"Everyone wants to categorize the world as good or bad, right or wrong. There is nothing 'in between' in their eyes."
"Just remember human beings have always managed to find the greatest strength within themselves during the darkest hours."