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The Things that Haunt Us

16 Jul

Today my summer school program is being audited by the Migrant Education program. Well, not just mine, the whole summer program that my school district is running with MEP funds. I thin there are 3 elementary, one middle & 2 high school programs. That means they might come, or they might not. It will haunt me today. I’ll be looking over my shoulder all day wondering when the flock of inspectors will swoop down upon us.

This is not exactly how Mary Shelley Black feels in In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, but there are some parallels.

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The first thing I love about the book was the setting. Rarely anymore do we see books about the first World War, which has almost become a forgotten war. I guess we can thank  Downton Abbey, in part for reminding people about “the war to end all wars” . And the centenary of the 1914 armistice is only a little more than a year away. In any case, this book is set in 1918, as the war is ending and the flu pandemic is taking its toll. The story is a marvelous combination of themes of the time: science, spiritualism, flu and war.

Mary Shelley is a logical science-minded girl who is sent from Portland, to live with an aunt in San Diego, when her father is arrested as a traitor. An old family friend is involved in spiritualist photography, which Mary holds in great disdain. Her aunt and many who have lost loved ones, seek out spiritualist photographers and mediums to have one last connection to those they’ve lost. When a good friend of Mary’s dies,and she becomes haunted by his spirit, Mary uses her logical powers to help him find peace.

What I loved about Mary is the reality of her reaction to the tragedy around her. It makes me think about all the buzz around PTSD  and what it takes to “recover”. Some people manage better than others, but no matter what, their pain is real.

Winters weaves historical fact into her narrative in a natural way and her extensive research makes the novel ring true.

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