I’m going to be brutally honest at the beginning of this review. At this point, I have no idea which book I want to choose. I’m hoping as I write about them, the clear winner will reveal itself to me. So fingers crossed…here I go!
If there were ever any two books that were on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, they would be Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.
The first is a splendid, quirky romance that tugs at your heart strings, but adds enough geek culture to grab the attention of readers that normally might shy away from a romance. Rowell includes humor and drama to create a story that will leave readers debating about how it is to be described. Cath and her twin sister Wren begin the story at college, away from home for the first time. It soon becomes obvious that Wren is more willing to succomb to the traditional representation of college life including several parties and a bit too much alcohol. Cath’s college experiences are quite the opposite. She would much rather stick to writing her fanfiction about Simon Snow, the main character from the super popular boy wizard book series. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, is a nightmare and she always has a male visitor, who shows up whether Reagan is home or not. Fangirl is a story full of truth. Rowell skirts away from traditional teen romance cliches and encourages the readers to draw their own conclusions before she reveals the reality of situations. While the Cath story is interesting enough to keep the reader’s attention, the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and Cath’s own interpretation found in sections of her fanfiction really make this book special.
The second title in this battle is In the Shadow of Blackbirds. This book tells the story of Mary Shelley Black (yes, she was named after the author of Frankenstein). Mary Shelley’s story takes place in San Diego in 1918. Two life-changing events were happening simultaneously and both had a largely traumatic affect to Mary Shelley’s life. The first was World War I. Mary Shelley had to move to San Diego from Portland to live with her aunt after her father was arrested from treason for helping men avoid the draft. Secondly, 1918 was the setting of the Spanish flu which killed millions of people. While a straightly historical novel about the flu and the war would have been interesting, Winters decides to turn it up a notch and includes the growing fad of spirit photography. With several friends and family dying quickly, spiritualism was on the rise amongst people hoping to communicate with their loved ones. After a near-death experience, Mary Shelley begins to see and hear her recently-deceased friend and would-have-been lover. In the Shadow of Blackbirds smoothly transforms from a historical novel into a light paranormal mystery. In order to not spoil the shocking and unexpected plot points for you, I will not go much further into the story. I was not expecting to like this novel as much as I did, which sets it apart from Fangirl. I knew that Fangirl was going to be something that I would fall in love with quite quickly. I did not expect the same results from In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Also, as a sufferer of bird phobia, I must state that the title is not merely a metaphor. There are birds in this story and they are not necessarily friendly. You’ve been warned.
So, I finished the review and it did help me to make a decision. I am going to go with In the Shadow of Blackbirds. The plot is full of twists, the setting is fully realized, and the paranormal aspects are just enough to keep it feeling real without taking it too far. Finally, In the Shadow of Blackbirds surprised me. It was a bit of a sleeper hit to me, but it definitely woke me up. Be sure to read this Morris Award Honor book soon!
Winner: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters