In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
As someone who is a little apprehensive to read Historical Fiction, I must admit this book wasn’t initially on my radar. But as reviews started to trickle in and I looked up the synopsis, I immediately knew I had to check this one out. There is just something about the agonizing despair of a ghost haunting loved ones that draws me in.
We start out by meeting our main character, Mary Shelley Black, as she travels to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego after her father has been arrested. The Spanish Influenza is in full force, leaving friends, family and neighbors dead or dying all around them. Between the war and the flu, people have taken to spiritual photographers, desperate to see that their loved ones are still with them. One just photographer happens to be the brother of her childhood friend and love, Stephen, who is missing and seemingly dead at war.
What I found utterly fascinating was learning more about the times when the Spanish flu was so prominent. I was never a fan of history in school so I really didn’t remember the detail about the epidemic, to be honest. I will admit that there were moments I felt the story was progressing a little slower than I liked, but overall I was so enthralled with the time period and how magnificently the author was able to transport us to that time. The writing was so superb that I truly felt like I was there, amidst all of the crazy concoctions people would use in an attempt to ward off the germs and sickness. Between all of the onion soup, garlic gum, kerosene sugar cubes and sulfur, I just can’t even imagine how scary and horrible it must have been to live through this time. I found myself telling my mom all about it because I was seriously so intrigued.
But it wasn’t just about the flu that I found to be so enrapturing. It was the spirit photography. I have honestly never heard of it before. Mary Shelley does not believe in it whatsoever but finds herself involved somehow as she searches for answers about her missing beloved. When news of his death hits, Mary Shelley takes it extremely hard. After an accident almost claims her life, Stephen’s ghost seems to haunt her. He’s disturbed and in pain and she is so wanting to help free him so he can be at peace. This is something else I must commend the author for because she managed to make me feel a little frightened and creeped out but also sad and hurt for Stephen. My heart broke for the both of them to have been torn apart before they really even began. And Mary was a determined, non-nonsense kind of gal. Very strong and extremely independent for a girl of 16. But during these times, she often had no choice. She was willing to do just about anything to save her friend from the agony he finds in the afterlife.
When it was time for all to be revealed I must say parts of it I saw coming but other parts were quite a surprise. It’s disturbing and horrific in certain ways, but I found myself completely satisfied with how it all ended.
Clever, well-researched and amazing, this one comes highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed the addition of old photos throughout the novel as well for just that added kick to throw you back to 1918.
Sidenote: Anyone else ever get giddy when they find the title in a book? I totally did in this one and the title is so fitting, I might add. 🙂