Blackbird Girls (The Blackbird Girls)

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Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together moments in underexplored history.

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 among three girls--Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941--this story shows that hatred, intolerance, and oppression are no match for the power of true friendship.---from the publisher

352 pages                        78-1984837356                         Ages 9-13

Keywords:  disaster, nuclear power plant, Chernobyl, friends, friendship, trust, truth, secret, danger, oppression, Ukraine, historical fiction, alternating perspectives, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old

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This is a fascinating and innovative work of historic fiction. The story centers around two young girls who were victims of the Chernobyl disaster along with a flashback to a character also a victim, but of The Holocaust.

The citizens of the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, have always been assured that “an accident at a nuclear power station was a statistical impossibility.” And since It was an “ impossibility” there was no reason to have an emergency plan in place. Big mistake!

On the morning of April 26, 1986, the day dawned red, with “unearthly blue” smoke billowing into the air, yet life proceeded as normal. Fifth grade classmates and rivals Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko, however, were worried. Both their fathers worked the night-shift at the Chernobyl power station, and had not arrived home after their shift ended. Eventually word gets out that reactor No. 4 exploded, killing several workers and sending the rest to the hospital, poisoned by the air they were breathing.

Sworn enemies, Valentina and Oksana are now forced together by the sudden evacuation. The girls 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 must flee in secret together in order to save themselves from the nuclear fallout. Now the girls must overcome both their hatred of each other and the grief heaped upon them by the accident as they forge a new life in Leningrad living with with Valentina’s grandmother. We learn grandmother harbors a dangerous secret.

Anna Blankman is a new author for me and I am impressed with her extensive research on historical events and names. The story alternates perspective among Valentina, Oksana, and Rifka, Rifka’s chapters take place during World War II. The combination of the different stories introduces the reason for the title. The blackbird is a symbol of eternal friendship.

Out of this nuclear tragedy evolves a moving tale of love and loss. (Historical fiction. 9-12)
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