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The Blackbird Girls

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On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work--Chernobyl--has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work--Chernobyl--has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother's secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they've wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend's life? Would you risk your own? Told in alternating perspectives between three girls--Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941.


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On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work--Chernobyl--has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work--Chernobyl--has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother's secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they've wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend's life? Would you risk your own? Told in alternating perspectives between three girls--Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941.

30 review for The Blackbird Girls

  1. 4 out of 5

    ✨Brithanie Faith✨

    5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I think it's worth mentioning that I've never been a huge fan of historical fiction, BUT- I requested this one because I've been trying to branch out- and the story of an unlikely friendship that blossoms following the Chernobyl disaster seemed like it'd be as good a place as any to start. I've always been an emotional being, but it's been a while since I've read something that has been truly touching. Anne Blankman 5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I think it's worth mentioning that I've never been a huge fan of historical fiction, BUT- I requested this one because I've been trying to branch out- and the story of an unlikely friendship that blossoms following the Chernobyl disaster seemed like it'd be as good a place as any to start. I've always been an emotional being, but it's been a while since I've read something that has been truly touching. Anne Blankman is one talented lady. I have a feeling that this book is going to stick with me for some time- and as this book is targeted at a younger audience I would recommend this to anyone else who is trying to branch out- because it has all of the impact of an adult read without being overly complicated.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darla

    A powerful portrait of an event in history that many know only by one name -- Cherobyl. Oksana and Valentina both have fathers who were at the plant when the disaster happened. Valentina is Jewish and faces teasing and bullying at school from kids like Oksana. Both girls are evacuated to Kiev once the danger is evident and only one of the mothers is approved to leave with them. From there, the stakes continue to increase. The book honestly depicts the realities of living under communism and the A powerful portrait of an event in history that many know only by one name -- Cherobyl. Oksana and Valentina both have fathers who were at the plant when the disaster happened. Valentina is Jewish and faces teasing and bullying at school from kids like Oksana. Both girls are evacuated to Kiev once the danger is evident and only one of the mothers is approved to leave with them. From there, the stakes continue to increase. The book honestly depicts the realities of living under communism and the prejudices against Jews. In addition, a parallel narrative from 1941 shows Valentina's grandmother and her perilous journey escaping the Nazis in WW II. A heart-filled tale punctuated with peril and the power of the human spirit. I loved it. Perfect for Ruta Sepetys fans! Thank you to Viking Books and Edelweiss for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    ARC provided by Follett First Look It's 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Valentina lives with her mother and father, who works at the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant. The family is Jewish, and careful not to draw attention to themselves, as people are still very prejudiced against Jewish people. This includes Oksana, who lives in the same apartment building with her mother and father, who also works at the plant. One day, there is some pouring from the plant, and everything is very odd. No one knows what ARC provided by Follett First Look It's 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Valentina lives with her mother and father, who works at the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant. The family is Jewish, and careful not to draw attention to themselves, as people are still very prejudiced against Jewish people. This includes Oksana, who lives in the same apartment building with her mother and father, who also works at the plant. One day, there is some pouring from the plant, and everything is very odd. No one knows what is going on, and the girls are not too worried even when their fathers are exposed to radiation, because the government has told them that the cure is simple-- drinking milk and eating cucumbers. Unfortunately, Oksana finds out that her father has been killed, and Valentina's father has to go to a hospital in Moscow. When the are is evacuated, the residents are tested for radiation, and Oksana's mother is sent away to a hospital. Valentina and her mother take the girl in despite her objections, and plan to get on a train to Leningrad. When only two tickets are available, the mother decides to send the girls. She gives them the name and address of a grandmother Valentina has never met. In flashbacks, we see Rifka/Rita's troubles during World War II, when she was sent away from her family in Kiev to hide from the Nazis, eventually being taken in by a family who became very dear to her. The grandmother takes the girls in, and Oksana is surprised that a Jewish woman lives such an impoverished life, because her father has told her that all Jews are greedy and wealthy. The room in the kommunalka is small, with a shared kitchen and bathroom, but the girls are able to go to school. Oksana does not have to put up with the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. She and Valentina both want to be reunited with their mothers, and both take on odd jobs to try to earn money. When Oksana's mother is let out of the hospital, she is appalled that the girl has been living with a Jewish family, but the mother's new boyfriend is just as abusive as her father was. Eventually, Oksana gets in touch with Valentina and her grandmother, who draw on the grandmother's contacts to secure a safe place for Oksana to live. Strengths: The details of daily life in Ukraine are fascinating, and apparently there is a Chernobyl television program(?) around, so some of my students might be encouraged to read this. I liked how the grandmother's story during WWII was woven into this one; it gives a little perspective on how the war affected the country in the years after it. I definitely remember Chernobyl in the news, so it was interesting to get a more personal feel for what it was like to live through that, although the bulk of the book was about living under Soviet restrictions. Weaknesses: Having Oksana be abused makes it possible to tie the grandmother's past into the story, but it also made the book even sadder. I grew up hearing that Soviets were evil and drunk, so maybe that's why the portrayal of the two abusive men made me wonder if all of the people were evil. Not sure that modern, young readers would make that leap, but I wanted to come away from the book with a more positive feeling about Ukranians, so wished the men had been nicer. What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The only other book that I know of that is set in the USSR around this time is Standiford's The Boy on the Bridge. Are there some that I am missing? It's a fascinating time period during my own adult life about which I know very little!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erin Kelly

    Great book. Wonderful characters. Lots of history. Compelling.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Abby Johnson

    So, so good. This engrossing historical novel brings Soviet Russia to life as it follows two unlikely friends during their evacuation from the Chernobyl disaster and a parallel narrative of a Jewish girl's escape during WWII. I loved the characters, I loved the rich setting. I would hand this to readers of The War That Saved My Life (and I don't say that lightly!) or Refugee. LOVED IT.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard

    TW: anti-Semitism, emotional and physical child abuse I legit have a talent for finding middle grade books that make me cry. This is not the easiest read by any means but it's so good. I love the parallels of the stories and how everything goes together. I adore the two girls and I MAY have burst out into tears for the entire last 1/3 (especially when "Blackbird Girls" was explained). Rep: Jewish and Muslim

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I was intrigued to read Blankman's first foray into middle grade and her return to 20th century historical fiction. However, this fell short for me. The book begins with the Chernobyl disaster - introducing Valentina and Oksana, whose father's both work at the plant. Sprinkled throughout is the story of Rifka in WW2 Soviet Ukraine, fleeing east to escape the invading Nazi forces. This book is a great story exploring friendship, religious persecution, and child abuse; however, I have no idea why Ch I was intrigued to read Blankman's first foray into middle grade and her return to 20th century historical fiction. However, this fell short for me. The book begins with the Chernobyl disaster - introducing Valentina and Oksana, whose father's both work at the plant. Sprinkled throughout is the story of Rifka in WW2 Soviet Ukraine, fleeing east to escape the invading Nazi forces. This book is a great story exploring friendship, religious persecution, and child abuse; however, I have no idea why Chernobyl and WW2 are in the mix. Having Chernobyl or WW2 as the inciting incident to explore these themes is odd - these huge events completely muddy what could have been a straightforward story of prejudice and family violence; what the bulk of the story is actually about. I would have thought we could analyse prejudice without a continent-wide nuclear disaster as a backdrop, but apparently not. I wouldn't normally harp on exploring social issues through the lens of a major historical event, but this book has a cover showing the Chernobyl disaster. There is no plot reason for the story to have the setting as the Chernobyl disaster. Having the story set in late stage Soviet Union, in general, would've achieved the same end. The exploration of the genocide of the Jews in WW2 and the subsequent clampdown on practicing any religion, leading to a disconnect from ancestors would've been the stronger book, as the historical event ties directly to the plot. However, we only explore these threads lightly through Rifka. I applaud the author for directly addressing child abuse in a middle grade book, as many books in that age group don't properly go there (Hello, Harry Potter, does Children's Aid have a call in to the Durselys?). Incredibly, the Author's Note fails to address that the "routine safety drill" was performed incorrectly and that the design of the reactor itself exacerbated all of the human errors that were made. I get that we simplify things for children, and I'm not a scientist, but let's at least state the basic facts if we're going to the trouble of writing an author's note. Thank you to the publisher, via Edelweiss, for providing me with a copy for review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This was amazing. Actual rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only thing that kept me from giving it a full 5 was that I wanted to know more about Chernobyl and it seemed like that was really only part of the beginning of the novel. Personal preference totally. Other than that, I really, really enjoyed it. I would classify this as a first purchase type of book. I am SURE my middle school readers will devour this as soon as I can get it to them. Valentina's father works for the power plant in Chernoby This was amazing. Actual rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only thing that kept me from giving it a full 5 was that I wanted to know more about Chernobyl and it seemed like that was really only part of the beginning of the novel. Personal preference totally. Other than that, I really, really enjoyed it. I would classify this as a first purchase type of book. I am SURE my middle school readers will devour this as soon as I can get it to them. Valentina's father works for the power plant in Chernobyl and one Saturday morning he doesn't return from his night shift. When she looks to the sky, it is red and there are strange blue clouds. Police and soldiers congregate in the town, but the official word is that nothing is wrong. Soon, they realize how much of a lie this is, since the reactor has exploded and there has been radiation leeching into the air since the fire started. Now, Valentina and Oksana, another girl from her apartment whose father also works at the plant have to try to travel to somewhere safe, somewhere away from the contamination, but also somewhere the government will let them go, since officially nothing is wrong. But Oksana and Valentina are not friends. Because Valentina is a Jew, and Oksana has been raised to distrust Jews. No, with no one else to help her, Oksana has to try to find a way to live with Valentina and her family as they travel across Russia to try to find safety. Layered beneath this story, which would be compelling enough as it is, is another story of Rifka, a girl who flees Ukraine during WWII due to her heritage (Jewish) and has to try to escape the German soldiers. Both of these stories highlight parts of history that people might not know about and show the complicated background of Russia. Highly recommend. Appropriate for grades 5-9.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexis (hookedtobooks)

    Thank you to @penguinteenca for sending me a copy of this book! - I really enjoyed this book! The growing friendship between Oksana and Valentina is beautiful to read about and see how it unfolds. The story follows these two girls as they experience the Chernobyl disaster, and they have to flee their homes because of the potential for radiation poisoning! Their families get ripped apart as they have to adjust to this new normal, and it was heartbreaking to have to see these two characters go throu Thank you to @penguinteenca for sending me a copy of this book! - I really enjoyed this book! The growing friendship between Oksana and Valentina is beautiful to read about and see how it unfolds. The story follows these two girls as they experience the Chernobyl disaster, and they have to flee their homes because of the potential for radiation poisoning! Their families get ripped apart as they have to adjust to this new normal, and it was heartbreaking to have to see these two characters go through what they went through! - The book does a good job of representing the restrictions in Soviet Society! There were not a lot of options for people of different faiths and backgrounds, and this book shows how Jewish people really struggled within the Soviet Union. We also got a glimpse of a young Jewish girl in World War Two and how she had to run away from the invading German army! This book was a lot more complicated than I was expecting and I loved it!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richie Partington

    Richie’s Picks: THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS by Anna Blankman, Viking, March 2020, 352p., ISBN: 978-1-9848-3735-6 “Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend” -- Carole King (1971) Nuclear electricity will be “too cheap to meter.” -- Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (1954) Most of the largest electric power plants in the world utilize steam turbines. “In steam turbines, hot water and steam are produced by burning a fuel in a boiler or by using a heat exchanger to capture heat fro Richie’s Picks: THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS by Anna Blankman, Viking, March 2020, 352p., ISBN: 978-1-9848-3735-6 “Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend” -- Carole King (1971) Nuclear electricity will be “too cheap to meter.” -- Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (1954) Most of the largest electric power plants in the world utilize steam turbines. “In steam turbines, hot water and steam are produced by burning a fuel in a boiler or by using a heat exchanger to capture heat from a fluid heated with, for example, solar or geothermal energy. The steam drives a turbine, which powers a generator. The fuels or energy sources used for steam turbines include biomass, coal, geothermal energy, petroleum fluids, natural gas, nuclear energy, and solar thermal energy.” -- U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Electricity Explained” (11/5/19) Before the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in Pennsylvania; the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine; and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan; I was an active opponent of nuclear power. I spent several years after college involved in the successful intervention to prevent construction of twin nuclear power plants in Jamesport, Long Island. When the goal is to heat water to turn a turbine and generate electricity, and when there are safe, economical alternatives, it makes no sense to employ a technology that has the potential for irradiating millions of humans, harming the planet, and burdens future generations with spent nuclear fuel rods that must be stored, guarded, and monitored for 10,000 years. My grave concerns about nuclear technology have since been borne out. It is important that young people understand the terrible price that has been paid through these three major nuclear disasters and other smaller but still deadly accidents. This gripping piece of historical fiction vividly portrays the ecological degradation and loss of human life that resulted from the Chernobyl disaster. That alone makes THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS an eye-opening book for 10-14 year old readers. But that’s only one of the book’s issues. The other two are anti-Semitism and the physical abuse of children. Valentina Kaplan’s father is a Chernobyl power plant worker. So is the father of Valentina’s schoolmate and nemesis Oksana Savehenko, who lives in the same apartment building. After the plant explosion, the two schoolmates and their mothers rush to a nearby hospital in search of the fathers. Valentina finds her father in a sea of victims in the hospital dormitory. Although he is still alive, his body is so dangerously radioactive that a doctor unceremoniously drags the girl away from her father before she can become contaminated. Meanwhile, Oksana’s mother learns that her husband died immediately. His body will remain buried within the remnants of the reactor. “In the case of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, you may blame yourself for ‘not listening’ and thus make your parent or caretaker so angry that he or she yelled at you or hit you. Children tend to blame the neglect and abuse they experience on themselves, in essence saying to themselves, ‘My mother is treating me like this because I’ve been bad.” -- Beverly Engel in Psychology Today, “Healing the Shame of Childhood Abuse Through Self-Compassion” (1/15/15) Oksana has been horribly abused. “She let out a deep breath, feeling her muscles relax. With Papa gone, no one would hit her ever again. She wouldn’t have to be scared. No! She was a horrible girl for thinking such a thing. Weak and stupid and mean. Papa had been wonderful. Handsome and clever and quiet and laughing-- She couldn’t breathe.” During the chaotic evacuation of their city, Oksana’s mother is detained by authorities and whisked away by ambulance because monitoring reveals that she has been exposed to excessive radiation. Oksana’s brutal, now-dead father has imparted his virulent anti-Semitism to her. Thus, Oksana is horrified when she ends up on an evacuation bus in the company of Jewish Valentina and her mother. With the train system overwhelmed, Valentina’s mother can’t get three tickets for the next phase of their journey, and she sends the two girls on alone. They head, unaccompanied, to Leningrad, Russia, to stay with Valentina’s maternal grandmother. Valentina has never met the grandmother because her mother and grandmother had become estranged over the grandmother’s refusal to stop secretly practicing her Jewish religion. It turns out that the two girls will spend months in Leningrad with the grandmother and without their respective mothers. THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS is, foremost, a coming of age story set in a perilous time. The story is told, alternatively, from the current (1986) points of views of the two girls and from the past (1941) point of view of the Jewish grandmother, then a solo teenager desperately fleeing the Nazi invasion of the Ukraine. As would happen forty-five years later for her granddaughter, the grandmother as an adolescent found a friend in her greatest moment of need. This is a beautiful and sometimes tragic story. While it is set a generation ago, the issues are no less relevant today. THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS is a gripping and emotional read that I could not put down. Richie Partington, MLIS Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/ richiepartington@gmail.com

  11. 5 out of 5

    Valerie McEnroe

    I was 16 when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened and I remember it being a big deal. I was thrilled to get this ARC about the disaster and the fictional story of two girls who form an unlikely friendship in its aftermath. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of a young Jewish girl, Valentina, and her bullying classmate, Oksana. There's also a spattering of flashback chapters of a Jewish girl fleeing Ukraine during the WW2 German invasion. The story opens with Valentina noticin I was 16 when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened and I remember it being a big deal. I was thrilled to get this ARC about the disaster and the fictional story of two girls who form an unlikely friendship in its aftermath. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of a young Jewish girl, Valentina, and her bullying classmate, Oksana. There's also a spattering of flashback chapters of a Jewish girl fleeing Ukraine during the WW2 German invasion. The story opens with Valentina noticing the nuclear plant on fire and her father not returned home from his engineering job there. At school her teacher reassures her that there is nothing to worry about because the government will take care of them. Oksana's father also works at the plant. From her chapters we learn that her father resents the Jews and is abusive. At first, no one is much concerned about the fires. Then two days later, government officials order an evacuation. Both fathers have met with tragedy and Oksana's mother tests positive for high radiation levels. Oksana has no choice but to leave with Valentina and her mother. She is not happy to be in the care of Jews. Eventually, Valentina and Oksana arrive in Leningrad to stay with Valentina's grandmother. Babulya (grandmother) is more than Valentina could have ever hoped. She is kind and loving, even toward Oksana. The girls enroll in school together and forge a strong friendship. For the first time Oksana is loved, by a Jewish woman no less. Her hopes are high when her mother finally arrives to take her home, but they are short-lived. Once again, she is reduced to nothing by her mother's new boyfriend. Fans of The War That Saved My Life will enjoy this one as well. The similarity is that a tragedy ultimately leads to a child being saved from abuse. There is a strong sense of place. Life under a communist regime is clearly described. The failure of the government to protect its people in order to save face. The holding back of train tickets in order to stem a mass exodus. Control on travel, especially outside the country. Constant government surveillance. Neighbors turning in neighbors. Ethnic racism. Food and housing rationing. No freedom of press, speech, or religion. If this was going on in 1986, it's probably still the same. Russia is not a fun place to live. And lots of great quotes. "The people we love are never lost to us. Your father will never leave you, not truly. His actions will echo in your life and in the lives of your children and in the lives of your children's children." "My grandmother always says if you save someone's life, you are beholden to her forever. By saving someone, you are doing holy work. So you owe the person you save a debt because they are the reason you did the sacred deed." "People talk about miracles, but there are miracles around us all the time that most of us don't see. Your friendship with Valentina, mine with Rifka--those are miracles. When we are kind and loving and generous, we become miracles ourselves." Highly recommend.

  12. 4 out of 5

    vanessa

    1.5. I'm pretty sure I should have DNF'd this, but I wanted to see how it ended. I think my issues stemmed with how plot-heavy this was: these girls do so much in this book, and it felt like so many random things that don't matter to their character development or friendship. For example, like 80% into this book we learn that one likes to tinker and creates inventions (helps an escape plot 50 pages later) and the other wants to be an artist (gives her a hobby, helps tie up the book). For a middl 1.5. I'm pretty sure I should have DNF'd this, but I wanted to see how it ended. I think my issues stemmed with how plot-heavy this was: these girls do so much in this book, and it felt like so many random things that don't matter to their character development or friendship. For example, like 80% into this book we learn that one likes to tinker and creates inventions (helps an escape plot 50 pages later) and the other wants to be an artist (gives her a hobby, helps tie up the book). For a middle grade book, it was too long. I would've cut 80 or more pages. The WWII parts were unnecessary and could've been told more succinctly (like when the grandma explains to Valentina). Finally, I am a reader of sad stories and enjoy sad stories, but this felt more like a sob story. I agree with the author's intentions (child abuse is never okay, religious prejudice is never okay, governments shouldn't lie to citizens), but everything was about /teaching/ these things. Oftentimes, it was the most dramatic representations of these situations and it did not feel authentic. Things I liked about this book: the first 20%, as we were still learning about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and trying to escape - that's what I wish this book focused more on.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stefanie Burns

    Amazing look into another way of life in another period of time. Loved Learning more about living in Eastern Europe in the 40s and 80s. Endearing characters dealing with extremely real and difficult situations. A book I couldn’t wait to pick up and read again and one I wanted to talk about.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    A compelling MG novel that starts with the Chernobyl disaster. Blackbird Girls does a lot of things at once, and does them well. It is at once historical fiction, adventure, and a story of friendship and healing. It is about the terrors of living in a totalitarian state, and also about the evils of prejudice. The WWII plot line was introduced a little abruptly, and the dual time lines might slow some readers down, but I think that ultimately they serve the story well. There’s a lot of heavy-duty A compelling MG novel that starts with the Chernobyl disaster. Blackbird Girls does a lot of things at once, and does them well. It is at once historical fiction, adventure, and a story of friendship and healing. It is about the terrors of living in a totalitarian state, and also about the evils of prejudice. The WWII plot line was introduced a little abruptly, and the dual time lines might slow some readers down, but I think that ultimately they serve the story well. There’s a lot of heavy-duty content in here: The two main characters are girls whose fathers were working at the nuclear plant the night of the disaster. One of the girls is Jewish, as is her grandmother. Both encounter anti-semitism, and a plot-line deals with the grandmother fleeing Kiev as a child to escape the advancing German troops. The book is clear about the facts of these things without dwelling excessively on the details. It’s exactly the right level of horrifying for a middle grade audience. There is also a well-handled plot line about domestic abuse. I thought all of it seemed very true-to-life. I believed in these characters, and I think readers will love them.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laura Gardner

    Such an outstanding historical fiction MG from #AnneBlankman. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ . . . This book is about Chernobyl, anti-Semitism, emotional/physical abuse, but most of all, FRIENDSHIP and the power of kindness. Also: Chernobyl and the aftermath is an excellent example of the danger of misinformation. . . . “We are out on this earth to be kind to one another... There are miracles around us all the time that most of us don’t see.” . . . #middleschoollibrarian #middleschoollibrary #library #librarian #futurereadylib Such an outstanding historical fiction MG from #AnneBlankman. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ . . . This book is about Chernobyl, anti-Semitism, emotional/physical abuse, but most of all, FRIENDSHIP and the power of kindness. Also: Chernobyl and the aftermath is an excellent example of the danger of misinformation. . . . “We are out on this earth to be kind to one another... There are miracles around us all the time that most of us don’t see.” . . . #middleschoollibrarian #middleschoollibrary #library #librarian #futurereadylibs #iteachlibrary #bookstagrammer #bookstagram #librariesofinstagram #librariansofinstagram #librariesfollowlibraries #librarylife #librarianlife #schoollibrarian #middlegrade #middlegradebooks #iteach #librarylove #booksbooksbooks #amreading #bibliophile #schoollibrariansrock #bookreview #bookrecommendation #igreads #malibrary #msla #mediaspecialist

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura Mauro

    * I got this book for review from the publisher* I simply loved this book. Again this book tackled a time period that I was not the familar with. I thought this was such a good read that not only opened my mind about time period chernoable power plant explosion and follows two young girls who fathers were works at that power plant. I loved the duel POV and also the focus on friendship, predjuices, finding your own family and hints of adventure that keep you guessing, I love books that are focused * I got this book for review from the publisher* I simply loved this book. Again this book tackled a time period that I was not the familar with. I thought this was such a good read that not only opened my mind about time period chernoable power plant explosion and follows two young girls who fathers were works at that power plant. I loved the duel POV and also the focus on friendship, predjuices, finding your own family and hints of adventure that keep you guessing, I love books that are focused on found family and this book really made me emotional and found it prefect listen!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Easy 5/5 for me 💗😭

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Ozirny

    Maybe I'm missing something or went into this with my expectations too high, but this didn't deliver at all for me. I needed about 500% more Chernobyl facts/details/aftermath (once they leave Pripyat we barely hear about it again), the writing was clunky and repetitive and the relationships just seemed to happen, rather than realistically develop. So I think we're still waiting for *the* Chernobyl middle grade.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alana "Loni"

    What a beautiful tale of true friendship and family. A great historical fiction pick for middle schoolers (and their adults)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I have a few books that I've read this year that I would definitely put on my "Best of 2020" list and this is one of them. It alternates between the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 and World War II. It's a beautiful story of friendship and resilience. In the note at the end, the author expresses the thought that even in the most trying of times there are good-hearted people to be found. This is a particularly timely and comforting message for the times we are currently living through.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Thomas

    The world needs a middle grade book about Chernobyl. What the world does not need is one. more. WWII. book. The look at life in communist USSR in the 1980s, especially as a person of Jewish faith, really rang true and was compelling. But, the book was too plot-driven and the characters a bit underdeveloped for my taste. I appreciated the back matter and felt it added value to the story.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Donna Dobihal Smith

    This is one of the most moving stories that I've read in a long time, with fully realized characters and settings, and an interesting interweaving of two unrelated events in history. (And yes, 1986 is history for the projected audience of this novel!) Although the book doesn't delve into the long term fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, it may spark young readers into researching about it themselves. One great thing about this book is that the grownups are as integral to the story as the juveni This is one of the most moving stories that I've read in a long time, with fully realized characters and settings, and an interesting interweaving of two unrelated events in history. (And yes, 1986 is history for the projected audience of this novel!) Although the book doesn't delve into the long term fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, it may spark young readers into researching about it themselves. One great thing about this book is that the grownups are as integral to the story as the juvenile characters, a nice change from the typical out-of-the-picture parents. Suspenseful, heart-wrenching, historically accurate, heart-warming, and a spot on ending. Highly recommended. Excellent choice for book clubs.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Becky Ginther

    It took me a little bit of time to get into this book, but I really enjoyed it once I did. It was a little slow to start but hooked me as we went along. I loved that it was a historical fiction book in a setting I didn't know too much about, and the character interactions were both wonderful and at times heartbreaking because of how real they felt in the struggles they went through. I'm really on the edge of giving this a 4 or a 5 (I think it would be more of a 4.5), but I think it's different e It took me a little bit of time to get into this book, but I really enjoyed it once I did. It was a little slow to start but hooked me as we went along. I loved that it was a historical fiction book in a setting I didn't know too much about, and the character interactions were both wonderful and at times heartbreaking because of how real they felt in the struggles they went through. I'm really on the edge of giving this a 4 or a 5 (I think it would be more of a 4.5), but I think it's different enough and well written enough that I'll give it the 5. I listened to this book as an audiobook - the narration was really well done and I recommend it. If there are any spelling mistakes on characters' names please forgive me as I was only hearing them and not seeing them written out! Valentina and Oksana are two girls who do not get along living in the Ukraine in 1986- Valentina is Jewish, and Oksana has been raised to believe the Jews are cheats. Both of their fathers work at Chernobyl, and that word will probably ring a bell and let you know what's going to happen. The girls have to get out of the city due to the nuclear explosion and the radiation, and they both end up moving to Leningrad for a bit to live with Valentina's grandmother. Just the historical setting of the novel is interesting, but so many different complexities are woven into the characters' lives in a relatable way that it becomes about more than just the historical setting and what's on the surface. Just reading about how two girls deal with having to leave their lives due to the Chernobyl disaster, being separated from their families and worried about the deaths of their loved ones - that would have been interesting by itself. But there's much more to it than just that. We get to know both of them better and we learn how racism has been so deeply ingrained into Oksana by her parents - and how she slowly begins to realize that maybe they are wrong about Jews. On top of this there is also a storyline of (view spoiler)[Oksana having been abused by her father - and then later by her mother's new boyfriend. The child abuse is absolutely heartbreaking, and the worst part is probably listening to her mother defend these men, telling Oksana that she shouldn't give them a reason to hit her. Oksana is fortunate to be able to escape, but it is very difficult to think about how many children are in similar situations. For much of the story Oksana believes that she is "bad" because that is what she has been told adult men and that she needs to be punished. To think a young girl believes that about herself is really difficult to read. (hide spoiler)] Finally there are occasionally chapters from 1946 about the grandmother's story when she was a girl (A Jewish girl during WWII in Europe). That story is interesting as well, but the way it is interspersed was a little bit jarring at first. You don't realize right away who the main character of these chapters is. And it's not often enough to care all that much for the first half of the book. This is probably the biggest fault for me with the story - I would have preferred if it was balanced between the two stories with an every other chapter sort of thing and embellished a bit more, or go the opposite way and condense her story and just have it recounted later when it's relevant. The in between sort of thing didn't jive all that well for me personally. Overall I really enjoyed this book and I'm glad I picked it up on a whim. It has fascinating characters who are beautiful but scarred, who grow and change - in much the same way as the characters in The War That Saved My Life, one of my favorite books of all time. I appreciated that it was more of a unique setting and allowed me to learn more about that piece of history as well.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lizz DiCesare

    “You were white as milk this morning,” Valentina said to Dyadya Sergei. “I’ve never tanned so quickly in my life,” he said, sounding pleased. “There must be something in the air.” Reading these lines in a book set in the backdrop of the Chernobyl disaster was absolutely haunting. I didn’t know what to expect from The Blackbird Girls, but Anne Blankman wrote a stunning middle grade novel that brings readers through a whirlwind of emotion. The story flips back and forth between two perspectives: Val “You were white as milk this morning,” Valentina said to Dyadya Sergei. “I’ve never tanned so quickly in my life,” he said, sounding pleased. “There must be something in the air.” Reading these lines in a book set in the backdrop of the Chernobyl disaster was absolutely haunting. I didn’t know what to expect from The Blackbird Girls, but Anne Blankman wrote a stunning middle grade novel that brings readers through a whirlwind of emotion. The story flips back and forth between two perspectives: Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko. Both are young girls living in Pripyat near the nuclear plant where their fathers work. They go to school together, but aren’t friends. Oksana has been taught by her father to avoid Valentina, because she’s Jewish. However, after the nuclear reactor explodes, the girls are forced to flee in secret together in order to save themselves from the nuclear fallout. I had originally thought the story would focus more on what exactly happened during the Chernobyl disaster, but the author used the event more as a catalyst to set up a story about Valentina and Oksana. The book focuses on them, and how they go from enemies to close friends. After losing their fathers, and being separated from their mothers, the girls only have each other. They’re thrown into a new city and a new school, and the only part of home they have left is each other. Oksana slowly realizes that everything her father told her about Valentina’s family was a lie, and the two girls become best friends. Of course, their friendship has a few bumps along the way, but nothing two strong girls can’t handle. While female friendship was a strong theme throughout the book, there was another one that stood out for me (content warning): child abuse. I was surprised to see this narrative in a middle grade book, because it’s rarely explored, but was also happy to see it being discussed. It’s made very clear in the book that abuse is unacceptable, and anyone dealing with a similar situation should seek help. There are also resources listed in the back of the book for people to utilize if needed. I will admit, this is a sad book. There are a lot of unfortunate things that happen to Valentina and Oksana, but they are incredibly resilient. I kept asking myself if this was really a book that would attract young readers, but then I remembered some of the books I read when I was around the targeted age group, such as Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. If I could go back in time and recommend this book to eleven year old me, I would. Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman comes out on March 10, 2020, and can be pre-ordered or purchased wherever books are sold.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Missy

    I was born in 1962, which made me 29 years old in 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved. 1962 was also the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that many thought would result in nuclear annihilation. For most of my life, the USSR was an ever-present competitor, often an ominous and frightening one. When the USSR in broke apart in 1991 (also 29 years ago), it seemed so improbable and impossible to me that this behemoth was no more. I mention all of this because The Blackbird Girls takes I was born in 1962, which made me 29 years old in 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved. 1962 was also the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that many thought would result in nuclear annihilation. For most of my life, the USSR was an ever-present competitor, often an ominous and frightening one. When the USSR in broke apart in 1991 (also 29 years ago), it seemed so improbable and impossible to me that this behemoth was no more. I mention all of this because The Blackbird Girls takes place in 1986 in the Ukranian USSR. This was the USSR of official "truths" that took precedent over a reality that might make the State look bad. It was the USSR of neighbors reporting other neighbors' suspicious activities to officials. It was the USSR of a lack of access to housing and food. All of these elements are woven into The Blackbird Girls, which is, at its heart, a friendship story and a bit of a thriller. While the book starts with the Chernobyl Disaster, the focus is on the connection between two fifth-grade girls and their journey to safety and to friendship. The book offers peril, which seems to have been part of the everyday life of many people who lived in the Soviet Union, especially Jewish citizens like Valentina and her family. Oksana's danger was closer to home and more hidden than the anti-Semitism faced by Valentina. Most of the book involves running and hiding in a variety of ways. But there are moments of kindness and joy, as there must have been in the lives of Soviet citizens facing various levels of deprivation. This book reminded me of The War That Saved My Life, a very popular book with upper elementary/middle school readers, although The Blackbird Girls is a bit darker. I think many fans of The War That Saved My Life would also appreciate The Blackbird Girls. One question I have about The Blackbird Girls is whether young readers will understand the subtext of the activities or experiences in the story. The author doesn't provide a lot of context. And considering that there hasn't been a Soviet Union for 29 years, the readers (and most likely their parents) might not understand why Valentina's grandmother lives in one room with a shared kitchen and bathroom (and has been waiting for a one-bedroom since 1968). They may not understand the dangers of blackmarket trading. I think The Blackbird Girls would be an excellent choice for book discussion groups. It would be very interesting to see how much the readers understood about the lives of Valentina and Oksana.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    It's a little rough to face the fact that 1986 is historical fiction. However, once that pill is swallowed, the story just blooms like a, well, like a mushroom cloud. It begins with Valentina and Oksana, bullied and bully, both living in Pripyat, both with fathers working at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. And one morning the sky is red with flames. Clearly something is wrong, but the extent of the catastrophe is kept under a tight lid until the international community pressures the Soviets t It's a little rough to face the fact that 1986 is historical fiction. However, once that pill is swallowed, the story just blooms like a, well, like a mushroom cloud. It begins with Valentina and Oksana, bullied and bully, both living in Pripyat, both with fathers working at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. And one morning the sky is red with flames. Clearly something is wrong, but the extent of the catastrophe is kept under a tight lid until the international community pressures the Soviets to admit what happened. The story explodes from there, following Valentina and Oksana as they come to terms with the fallout. Their fathers' fates are uncertain, they must evacuate with their mothers, and then Oksana's mom is diverted to a hospital for treatment for radiation. Oksana is at the mercy of her former victim. I learned a lot about what Soviet life in the 1980s might have looked like, including the still rampant antisemitism that permeated many areas. The author's note was fantastic, and I discovered that Chernobyl did not stop supplying power for another 14 years after this disaster. Initially, workers would go in for 5-7 minute shifts as they worked to contain the destroyed reactor. As a kid, when I read books like this (about times and places ripe with deprivation and oppression) they always seemed so sad and desperate. So far from my innocent childhood in the best country in the world. The characters shone through their circumstances as heroes. As an adult, I can see now that normal life continues, even as the world falls apart all around us. Instead of heroes and villains there are mostly just people. Some fall prey to temptation or fear, while others manage through luck and determination to do good things in the midst of chaos. We can all try to do good things every day. We can all be brave in the midst of fear and chaos. We can all try to see the truth under the propaganda. 4.5 stars, because although the ending is satisfying, it’s a little too rushed and tidy. Antisemitism. Child abuse. Reviewed from an advance readers copy.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    11 yo 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 circumst 11 yo 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. FOr this and more of my reviews, visit http://kissthebook.blogspot.com

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    A lovingly woven story that has both tragedy and hope, there are dual storylines set in two distinct time periods. While I appreciated the historical nature of both events, it would have been a stronger book just focusing on Chernobyl and its aftermath because it's rare that a book for kids to discuss it let alone an American book. We need more stories like this. And the irony was that I had set the book aside when I received it and realized what it was about (I was just drawn to Blankman who is A lovingly woven story that has both tragedy and hope, there are dual storylines set in two distinct time periods. While I appreciated the historical nature of both events, it would have been a stronger book just focusing on Chernobyl and its aftermath because it's rare that a book for kids to discuss it let alone an American book. We need more stories like this. And the irony was that I had set the book aside when I received it and realized what it was about (I was just drawn to Blankman who is a local from our area, who we've Skyped with and I saw speak) that I was reading the adult nonfiction about Chernobyl. I put that on the backburner, but I'll be picking it back up again. So the focus deviates with the second storyline in a way that is tolerable but doesn't enhance the book. With my second caveat being that with the age of the characters and a target as a middle grade, it's hefty (in size) and some of the situations seems a little unrealistic. Not the abuse, that's an important inclusion. Not the fear mongering related to religious persecution, but overall in some of the situations they were put in. It all connected wonderfully at the end showing her skill as a writer for sure, but there's a balance of readership and interest with how the story was ultimately constructed.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Serena

    This is a somber, but hopeful, story about courageous acts of kindness and friendship that play out in the lives of three characters. Beginning first in a town near Chernobyl, Valentina and Oksana are schoolyard enemies. Both of their fathers work at the nuclear power plant. When the nuclear accident occurs, their mothers arrange for travel to a safer place and the girls are forced to face their fears and heartaches together. Despite their bitter differences, they begin to develop trust and even This is a somber, but hopeful, story about courageous acts of kindness and friendship that play out in the lives of three characters. Beginning first in a town near Chernobyl, Valentina and Oksana are schoolyard enemies. Both of their fathers work at the nuclear power plant. When the nuclear accident occurs, their mothers arrange for travel to a safer place and the girls are forced to face their fears and heartaches together. Despite their bitter differences, they begin to develop trust and eventually an unbreakable bond of friendship. A parallel story of Rifka, set during the Second World War ties up the central themes of family, home, friendship, and inclusion. There are many details about the disaster and the government response to it. As historical fiction, this is top notch.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Hines

    The Blackbird Girls is a touching story about friendship, hardship, and self-discovery. I could hardly put down the novel. As a fifth grade teacher, I can see my students enjoying Valentina and Oksana’s stories. Their stories detail the significant impact the Chernobyl disaster had on the youth of the Soviet Union; stories which we rarely (if ever) have been able to explore. It gives young readers the ability to step in to the shoes of another generation, and two completely different cultures. O The Blackbird Girls is a touching story about friendship, hardship, and self-discovery. I could hardly put down the novel. As a fifth grade teacher, I can see my students enjoying Valentina and Oksana’s stories. Their stories detail the significant impact the Chernobyl disaster had on the youth of the Soviet Union; stories which we rarely (if ever) have been able to explore. It gives young readers the ability to step in to the shoes of another generation, and two completely different cultures. Oksana’s story will give some young readers a voice, the ability to speak up and speak out. It is so important for students to feel like they belong, that they are strong, and that they are loved. Oksana’s journey of self-discovery will provide young readers with someone they can identify with and be inspired by. The Blackbird Girls is a book I will recommend again and again to my students, colleagues and friends.

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