A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that ghosts are real In the Shadow of Blackbirds. They manifest themselves to the living and can physically affect their surroundings. First-time author Cat Winters successfully creates a creepy, gruesome atmosphere that's sustained throughout the book. There's some powerful, classic imagery of violence and death that's likely to stay with the reader for a long time afterward and may genuinely frighten younger kids and preteens. But there's much to admire, even for the squeamish: The strong female main character has a knack for science and determines to use it to solve the mystery. Daily life at the end of World War I is richly detailed, and readers' eyes will open to many surprising aspects of life back then.
What's the story?
In the fall of 1918, 16-year-old Mary Shelley must leave home when her father is unjustly arrested for anti-war activities. Sent to live with her aunt in San Diego, she briefly reunites with an old flame who almost immediately goes off to war. Navigating a strange, dystopian world in which everyone wears surgical masks for fear of catching the flu, Mary survives a lightning strike and is forever changed. Interested in debunking photographs that supposedly show spirit manifestations, she gets drawn into discovering the truth behind the death of a spirit who appears to her and whose reality she can't deny.
Is it any good?
Author Cat Winters deftly draws readers into a spine-tingling ghost story that weaves love with loss, belief with science, and war with resting in peace. The World War I era is richly evoked with such details as bizarre (to modern readers) folk remedies against the flu, the Spiritualism craze, and patriotic fervor that goes too far.
But the real star is the creepy, deadly atmosphere that pervades right from the opening paragraph and propels the gripping story forward. Between the war and the flu, our heroine (named after that Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame) must fight to honor her loved one's memory in a world "so horrifying, it frightens even the dead." And it's all eerily enhanced by haunting photographs from the era.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they believe in ghosts. What do you think happens to people after they die? Can the spirits of the dead haunt the living?
War has profound effects on everyone it touches. Do you know any veterans? Did their experience change them in some way? How did their loved ones cope while they were gone?
In the Shadow of Blackbirds uses a lot of photographs from the World War I era. Do they bring you into the story or the mood, or do they get in the way? Would reading the book be different without them?
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