Monday, April 27, 2020

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman - ESSENTIAL

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman, 340 pages. Viking (Penguin Random House), 2020. $18.

 Language: G (0 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG (physical child abuse).



11yo Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are in the same grade at school, but they aren't friends - Valentina is Jewish, and Oksana's father has told her all about how terrible the Jews are. But, in the spring of 1986, a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl explodes sending radiation pouring out into the air. Both girl's fathers worked at the reactor. Oksana's father has been killed and Valentina's father is taken to a hospital in Moscow. Their town of Pripyat, Ukraine has been evacuated and circumstances force them together, alone on a train to Leningrad, without their mothers, they are enroute to Valentina's grandmother, a person Valentina has never met. Oksana is worried - she will be living with Jews. But to her surprise, the things her father has always taught her are not right, Babulya is kind, poor and loves Oksana. Something she realizes she has never really felt - her father was abusive, her mother allowed it and Oksana is still recovering from the festering cigarette burn her father made on her shoulder.

I remember when this happened, Blankman has told a fascinating, powerful and sad story about Soviet society and the continued prejudice against the Jewish people. I loved the regular daily routines, the fear of being reported to the police, how careful Valentina was to not be noticed. While the abuse is included, it's age appropriate, not too graphic but could spark conversation or questions. Told in alternating chapters, the perspectives were well balanced. Both girls are well developed and their growing friendship is natural and essential. So much sacrifice - a heartbreaking story. Includes resources for children experiencing emotional or physical abuse as well as further readings to learn more about Chernobyl or life in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1980s.

Lisa Librarian

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