Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Thursday, March 13, 2014

Plot Summary:
In the midst of WWI, Mary Shelley is on the run from the Spanish Influenza Epidemic while her father has been imprisoned for treason for helping young men dodge the draft. After making her way to San Diego, Mary must start all over knowing that her father, or Stephen (her best friend and first love), may never come back home. Named after the great author, Mary Shelley, Mary, just like her mother, has a fascination with inventions, science, and electricity, which most people find a strange except for Stephen. When Stephen's family moved to San Diego, Stephen and Mary would write letters to one another and, when Aunt Eva moved to San Diego, Mary was thrilled because she finally had a way to see Stephen. However, when Mary arrived, she saw that Julius (Stephen's troubled brother) has transformed the family's honest photography business into a business of deception and thievery. What's worse is that Mary has no idea that Stephen enlisted in the Army and will be shipping off to the very war she, and her father, despise. After the incident in the parlor that left a permanent rift between the brothers, Mary must to Stephen's home to pick package from Stephen. Sadly, the home that she admired so much was crawling with grieving families who are waiting to see their dearly departed loved ones. With the passing of Uncle Wilfred, Aunt Eva has become obsessed with Julius' work and doesn't allow Mary to say one bad thing about him. However, Mary's world is shattered when tragedy strikes and the only way she is going to cope with it is to find some sense of normalcy. The only catch is: what is normal when you can see, and speak, to the dead.         

Critical Evaluation:
It was very, very hard to not give the whole plot away in my summary because there is so much going on, but in an awesome and mysterious way. Mary Shelly is misfit who, like Dr. Frankenstein, has a fascination for everything scientific. What makes Mary Shelly a great main character is that she is an exceptionally bright young lady who, beneath the oddities she explores, is just like any other teenage girl. When I first read this story, I was dreading the romance, but this is definitely not a love story, but a story about love. Mary, who is struggling with the loss of her father, amidst a senseless war, is trying her best to make sense of the mess that she is living in. Her guardian, Aunt Eva, who is only ten years older than Mary, is also struggling with issues where her obsession, and fear of the flu, are driving her to the point of insanity. What I appreciate the most about this book is that the women in this story are undeniably strong and are true survivors. It was such a breath of fresh air to witness a young girl stand up for her beliefs and was willing to risk hell and high water to find the truth. Although I was put off by her attempt to electrocute herself (after finding out about Stephen and her father), the Winters had a reason behind this action because it was her momentary "death" that has allowed her to step in between the realm of the living and the dead. More importantly, has she not done this crazy thing, who knows what would have happened if she didn't. In the Shadow of the Blackbirds is a memorizing tale of a courageous girl who is deperately trying to fight for the ones she loves. Furthermore, it's a hunting portrayal of our own world that could easily repeat itself and let's hope that it will never happen again.

Information about the Author:
According to her website: 
Cat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.
Her critically acclaimed debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, a 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Her upcoming books include The Cure for Dreaming (Amulet Books/Fall 2014) and The Uninvited (William Morrow/Publication date TBA), and she's a contributor to the 2015 YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys.

Cat lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

Teen Historical Fiction, Teen Horror

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to In the Shadow of the Blackbirds:
Awards & Recognition:
  • 2014 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist
  • School Library Journal Best Books of 2013
  • YALSA's 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in Young Adult Fiction
  • Booklist's 2013 Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth
  • Booklist's 2013 Top Ten First Novels for Youth
  • Nominated for the ACL of Northern California's 2013 Distinguished Book List
  • Starred reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal
  • Highlighted review, VOYA Magazine

{ 3 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for pointing out my error. I looked through the book and it looks like it's "Stephen" and not "Steven."

  2. can someone gave me a summary for each chapter?


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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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