In Cat Winters’ In the Shadow of Blackbirds, World War I rages across Europe, and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 has killed tens of thousands across America. For her own safety after her father is jailed for anti-war activities, Mary Shelley Black is forced to leave her home in Portland, Oregon, and take the train to San Diego, where her maternal Aunt Eva lives. Soon after her arrival, she learns the unthinkable: her childhood love, Stephen Embers, who ran off and enlisted, died on the front lines in France. An act of desperation leaves her with the ability to hear and see his ghost. He tells her something's wrong--and can't stop talking about looming, murderous blackbirds. So Mary is on a mission to discover what really happened to Stephen, and to find a way to rest his soul in peace.
From our own fears of what new pandemic might be lurking around the corner, to the nightly news of wartime atrocities and PTSD, this book reminds us that, sadly, everything old is new again. Mary is a likeable character, with her psychic interactions with Stephen all the more potent because she still retains her natural and healthy skepticism of the Spiritualist community, which history showed was filled with quite a few hucksters. Stephen's warnings not to trust everyone around her sets us up to keep our eyes open for duplicity, but even then we're horrified by the conclusion to Stephen's sad tale. It's a well-plotted and tidy story with a satisfying ending (given the circumstances), and for those who never knew or understood the times of the first World War, are left all the richer for it.
Though not with the supernatural flair of Blackbirds, other books about teens struggling during the times around World War I are Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson, and After the Dancing Days by Margaret Rostkowski.