In The Shadow of Blackbirds is set in 1918, World War I is in full swing and the Spanish Influenza is sweeping across the nation killing millions. It is a terrifying time and with so many dying the survivors are turning to spirit mediums, séances, and spirit photography to connect with their lost loved ones. I absolutely loved how Winters seamless integrated the flu, WWI, and spirit photography in to one story.
Mary Shelley Black was an amazing heroine, she had a silent strength. She wasn’t snarky, or high strung, she was a girl making her way through one of the worst times in history. Her mother is dead, her father is arrested for speaking out against the war, her childhood sweetheart is killed in the war and the flu is knocking on her door. Yet through all of this she remains calm, steadfast, and analytical. The way Mary Shelley worked through her problems was methodical and I liked seeing her struggle with the supernatural vs. the scientific. Without even knowing when it happened Mary Shelley became one of my favorite heroines in YA.
The research that went in to this novel was impressive, I especially liked the descriptions of the flu and what people did to prevent contacting the virus. I had no idea that onions were used to stave off the flu, or how intense the use of masks was. Winters descriptions of these things as well as the descriptions of trench warfare and what the soldiers experienced in Europe were just amazing and they evoked instant emotion.
This novel also tackles the issue of PTSD which is something we are all familiar with now but during World War I PTSD was not widely understood and the men suffering from it did not receive proper treatment. The soldiers were sent to sanitariums and forgotten. This is an issue we don’t see enough of in general, and this is the first YA novel I have seen mention even it. It’s a tough issue and I really appreciate that Winters chose to include it in the story.
I would also be remiss if I didn't include a quick mention that this novel includes pictures from 1918 at the start of every other chapter or so that reflect the chapter and really bring the story to life. The pictures were dark and sad and further added to the ambiance that Winters created.
Overall, I can’t say enough times how much I loved this novel. It was different, and tackled so many different issues seamlessly. The characters were all fleshed out and I cared for each of them in their own way. This was an absolutely stunning debut by Winters and I can not wait to read more from her!