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Friday, November 27, 2020

Chernobyl Middle-Grade Novel Engrossing and Enlightening

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Neither Valentina Kaplan nor Oksana Savchenko think much about what it means to live next to a nuclear power plant or the fact that their fathers perform dangerous jobs inside.  The Ukrainian government has assured its citizens that Chernobyl is infallible, Pripyat a perfectly safe place to live.  No one would dare question anything the authorities say.  So Valentina and Oksana, along with their families, neighbors, and friends give their safety little thought, going about their daily lives as they always have.  Until April 26, 1986.  When a reactor inside the plant explodes, killing both the girls' fathers, and releasing massive clouds of radiation into the air, their lives change forever.

As a Jew, 11-year-old Valentina has long been bullied by Oksana.  So, she's not happy when her mother takes charge of her nemesis in the chaos after the explosion.  She's even less thrilled when both girls are pushed onto a train in a desperate attempt to get them out of Ukraine and into Leningrad, where they will wait out the disaster with Valentina's estranged grandmother.  Thrust into a strange new world, the girls are forced to rely on each other as they work through their shock and grief to face an unknown future.  As they spend more time together, they come to see each other in a new light, even becoming friends.  When disturbing secrets are revealed, it becomes clear that Oksana's fate lies in Valentina's hands.  How far will one girl go to save another?  Is Valentina willing to risk her own life for someone who spent years bullying her?  How strong is the girls' tenuous friendship really, when push comes to shove?  

I know little about the Chernobyl explosion, so I was excited when I discovered The Blackbird Girls, Anne Blankman's newest historical novel.  The story, written for a middle-grade audience, paints a grim but interesting picture of life in communist Ukraine and Russia.  It features two sympathetic, admirable heroines, both of whom grow as characters throughout the novel.  Their story is full of tension and suspense, which makes the tale a compelling one.  While The Blackbird Girls deals with some difficult, disturbing subjects, overall it's a hopeful book that teaches important lessons about the danger of stereotyping, the value of independent thinking, the joy of finding good even in troubled times, and the saving power of friendship and found family.  Set in an intriguing period of history, The Blackbird Girls is a moving novel that is both educational and engrossing.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, scenes of peril, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. That is an interesting setting for a middle-grade novel. Makes me want to read this one even more. :)

  2. I don't read many middle-grade or young adult books, but this topic is interesting and one I know little about.

  3. Super interesting. I was living in Vienna, Austria when the Chernobyl disaster happened and it looms large in my life (I am not allowed to give blood because I was within 600 miles of the explosion). This one sounds interesting.


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