The first point I will make about Cat Winter’s The Uninvited is that is a book for adults, not young adults. Since I usually pick up books without reading much about them, I was surprised, to say the least, by some of the scenes in the book. Even though I had no warning, I couldn’t help but fall madly, deeply in love with this book, just as I did with Winter’s other books, The Cure for Dreaming and In the Shadow of Blackbirds. After all, great fiction is great regardless of what subgenre it falls into. So, kids, you may want to BEWARE OF ADULT THEMES.
Once again, as with previous Cat Winters novels, we find ourselves in the early 20th century United States. It’s October 1918. Americans are dying by the thousands in the trenches in Europe and the Spanish Influenza is just beginning to take lives at home. Society is wrought with fear of illness, war and their own uncertainties—it is the height of hysteria. The APL (American Protective League) and Yellow journalism are at their peak and those deemed unpatriotic are labeled as enemies of the state, followed and disparaged in the newspaper without recourse. German immigrants are treated terribly, with some even being shipped to internment camps. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of dread and fear in society. To put it in Ivy’s words, “The world smells and tastes of death and fear right now.”
Ivy Rowan is a young woman, aged 25, caught in the midst of this terror. She is neither a victim nor a perpetrator, but someone who seeks escape from a turbulent society and family. When she finds out her father and brother have just murdered a German immigrant, she packs her bags and leaves home. As a shut-in, barely having left her house in 8 years except to teach children piano lessons, she finds many surprises in city life, the dangers that come with it, charitable activities, new friends and…JAZZ.
Winters treats Jazz music like one of her main characters in this book, weaving it into and around many of the Ivy’s storylines. It is her constant companion and at the very center of Ivy’s relationship with Daniel (who is a jazz aficionado). She often struggles with visiting the Buchanan Masonic Lodge ballroom and is tempted by the hot, swinging jazz sounds wafting from its open windows. She describes it as: “If anyone were to ever say to me that music waster one’s time, I would urge them to climb the stairs to the Buchanan Masonic Lodge ballroom and experience their own toes tapping to the rhythm of hot jazz, their own blood throbbing with vitality.”
Wilhelm Daniel Schendel is a furniture maker and German immigrant to the United States. He is complicated and secretive. He also happens to be the brother of gentleman who was murdered by Ivy’s father and brother. Ivy quickly makes him the focus of her attention when she moves to town and he reluctantly obliges. He inundates Ivy with his almost savant knowledge of the Jazz music of the day and is a skilled jazz musician himself. With his good looks and knowledge, Ivy quickly feels more for him than pity, but is that enough?
As with Winters’ other novels, there is a supernatural element in this story. While many reviews are calling it scary or frightening, to me, this is just another aspect of interacting in fictional city of Buchanan, Illinois. Ivy’s ghosts usually visit her to harken the loss of yet another person close to her, but it seems like the visits are becoming more frequent, so the biggest mystery of this novel is: who will Ivy lose next?
This is an example of excellently written, well-researched, early 20th century historical fiction that just sucks the reader in from the first page. There are twists and turns galore and Winters decorates each page with her beautiful prose. She truly captures the Age, as well as the vernacular of the age without sounding cheesy. Also, as a former history major myself, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Ms. Winters’ bibliography and, as a music lover, I applaud the suggested music playlist included in the Index. Bravo, Ms. Winters, bravo!