In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

When Mary was sent to her aunt’s house in San Diego, her father thought she would be safe from the influenza epidemic, from the authorities who imprisoned him when he spoke out against the war, from fear. He couldn’t know that her sweetheart’s ghost would visit her and cry out for justice.

Schools, theaters, dance halls – all closed to keep the contagion from spreading, but in autumn 1918 the death toll is mounting here and over in Europe where countless soldiers are dying. Aunt Eva lost her husband in the earliest days of the epidemic and is trying to contact him through spirit photography and séances.

Stephen told Mary that his brother Julius used trickery to create the spirit photographs, but after her sweetheart left for the war, she visited the studio with her aunt anyway. An expert who debunks spirit photographers has found nothing fraudulent in Julius’ work where ghostly images appear next to the living.

The letters from Stephen stop arriving, a telegram comes for his family, a funeral for yet another fallen young soldier – then he starts visiting Mary in her dreams and her waking moments, begging her to make the blackbirds quit attacking him. She volunteers her time at the veterans’ center, reading to injured soldiers back from the war. One man tells her that Stephen wasn’t killed over there, and 16-year-old Mary begins to wonder what really happened.

Is she truly talking to Stephen’s spirit?

How could blackbirds have caused his death?

Why does he tell Mary to stay away from his family’s house and studio?

The author ably captures the terror of the Spanish flu epidemic which often killed within hours and the longing of people wanting to believe that death is not the end of everything in this historical novel with a psychic twist.

Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA – blogging young adult books beyond the bestsellers at

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