cover image The Blackbird Girls

The Blackbird Girls

Anne Blankman. Viking, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9848-3735-6

In April 1986, in the village of Pripyat, Ukraine, two fifth-grade nemeses are thrown together following the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, which kills both of their fathers, one immediately, one through radiation poisoning. During evacuation, Oksana, who has been taught that “all Jews are liars,” protests in alarm when Valentina’s mother assumes responsibility for her. Valentina, meanwhile, resents the unwelcome accompaniment of her school adversary. After traveling to Leningrad, they board with Valentina’s formerly estranged grandmother, who secretly practices Judaism. Alternating between each girl’s perspective, the narrative also includes occasional interludes about Rivka, a 12-year-old girl who flees Ukraine in 1941, running from the German army that has slaughtered her family. Gradually, Oksana and Valentina develop a bond that mirrors Rivka’s friendship with a Muslim girl who saved her life during WWII. Blankman (Traitor Angels) conveys Russia’s entrenched anti-Semitism, as well as the constant vigilance required of citizens living in a police state, through the children’s eyes, as they observe adults’ fear of being overheard or spied on, and field constant reminders not to criticize authority. This engrossing work of historical fiction captures Chernobyl’s devastating impact on land and people while upholding the power of kindness to overcome prejudice and withstand oppression. Ages 9–12. [em](Mar.) [/em]