Ivy Rowan crawls out of her sickbed, weakened by the Spanish flu, to discover her father and youngest brother have brutally murdered a German immigrant. She assumes their drunken rage stems from the recent death of her other brother, who lost his life fighting in the war (WWI). Though she hasn’t fully recovered from the flu, she leaves her mother behind and flees the house. There is a brief mention of a “gift” she and her mother share of seeing “uninvited” guests, ghosts of the dearly departed who only appear when someone has died.
Ivy finds herself immersed in a sick and dying world, full of disease and fear. The authorities gloss over the immigrant’s death as a random act of violence committed by passing vagrants. Most of the German and other immigrants are gone, scared off or accused and arrested for being anti-American. Ivy enters into a relationship with Daniel, the brother of the murdered man. She endures hateful leers from an old family friend that actually calls her a whore at one point. She risks the accusation of treason, but can’t stop herself from being with Daniel. Ivy starts helping two Red Cross volunteers, an immigrant/war widow and a young black girl. They take an ambulance to the south side in the middle of the night helping the sick the hospital won’t, and people are getting better.
I didn’t know much about the Spanish flu before reading this book. I have heard of it, just didn’t realize the impact it had across the world. When Ivy and many other people were recovering from the flu, I wasn’t convinced. It was too good to be true. Writing 101: it must be believable, no matter what the story is. I was so confused that I looked up the Spanish flu and found how it was unique in that it attacked the young healthy adult population more than children and elderly.
I also wondered where all the “uninvited” guests were. It’s the title of the book after all. Ivy saw “departed” people here and there, but no one died because of it.
It didn’t hit me until one scene where Ivy and Daniel drank too much and ransacked Daniel’s home. As they lay in bed, sleeping it off, she hears someone walking down the hall, exclaiming about the mess, even cleaning up a bit. Daniel never stirs. The person even comes into the room and moves things around. Ivy is petrified, but the stranger never sees her laying in the bed with Daniel. My first thought was, Daniel is the one that died… wait, but he and she had… this is weird. Ivy believes she saw Daniel’s dead brother, but now I think Daniel is the one who died and wonder what kind of book am I reading that people have relations with ghosts…
Ivy runs back home, begging her mother for information. The Spanish flu is so vast that the veil between the living and the dead is shredded. Her mother admits that her father murdered an innocent man because of Ivy, not her brother. Ivy died from the Spanish flu. So little was known about the epidemic that it was easy to blame the closest enemy at hand: German immigrants. No matter what kind of bastard her father was, and he was a bastard, he had loved his daughter and her death was too much for him to take.
So wait… if Ivy died from it, than how did she interact with everyone she met? Exactly. They were all dead too. All uninvited guest.
Impressed can’t even begin to describe how I felt about this twist. Cat Winters designed her misdirection so well, that when all the pieces fell into place, I felt as if I should have known it from the beginning, but was glad I didn’t. What an amazing journey.