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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. 4 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. 4 out of 5

    Panda Incognito

    This book went down in my personal history before I ever read it. I had waited three years for my favorite living historical fiction author to release a new book, and I couldn't wait for my hold copy to arrive, and then it did arrive, on one of the few days between my last shift at the library and the entire county system shutting down because of COVID-19. Oh, well. I had waited three years, so I could survive three months more, right? I'm glad that I did, and on June 15, the library began its fi This book went down in my personal history before I ever read it. I had waited three years for my favorite living historical fiction author to release a new book, and I couldn't wait for my hold copy to arrive, and then it did arrive, on one of the few days between my last shift at the library and the entire county system shutting down because of COVID-19. Oh, well. I had waited three years, so I could survive three months more, right? I'm glad that I did, and on June 15, the library began its first phase of reopening by providing a no-contact book return and hold pick-up arrangement. I went in that afternoon, picked up this one available hold request, and read it over that night and the next. Fortunately, even though I was afraid that the book couldn't live up to my hopeful expectations or the significant role it had played in my COVID story, I liked it even more than I expected to. This middle grade novel tells the story of two girls from Ukraine whose families are affected by the Chernobyl disaster. At the beginning of the book, they are enemies, but as they are thrown together because of the disaster, they gradually open up to each other and develop a friendship. I usually don't like enemies-to-friends tropes, since they tend to be contrived, but this story flowed naturally, gradually resolving the tensions between the girls as they shared experiences together and learned to see past their assumptions and prejudices. The main character is Jewish, and this is a significant driving force for the story and its themes. There are far too few novels that deal with Jewishness and anti-Semitism apart from a World War II time period, and I appreciate how this book addresses longstanding ethnic hatred in the USSR and the USSR's state-mandated atheism. This book deals well with both the ethnic and religious aspects of what it meant to be Jewish in that social and political context, and does so in a way that works as an integral part of the story, never a preachy add-on. This book also addresses issues related to child abuse. Although this could be a triggering read for a child who has experienced physical abuse and emotional neglect, Anne Blankman deals with the issues in a sensitive, realistic way. Instead of turning her book into a stilted Public Service Announcement, she writes about abuse in a way that accurately depicts the dynamics of abuse and the thoughts and feelings that sufferers are likely to have about themselves. The character arc related to experiencing and accepting love for the first time is incredibly moving, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this part of the story worked. This book is a moving testament to the power of female friendship and familial love, and I greatly enjoyed it, especially since it has such a unique context. However, the book has two significant faults that keep me from giving it a full five-star rating. One is that the Chernobyl crisis ends up taking a backseat to the rest of the plot during the second half of the book. It is the original driving force of the story, and it is a huge part of the book's marketing appeal, but the ongoing political, social, and emotional ramifications of the nuclear disaster fade out of the story much too quickly. This isn't realistic at all, considering what tremendous trauma the girls endured, and even though I enjoyed the other elements of the story, every time I would think again about the disaster, I would wonder how the characters could be so focused on so many other things, not constantly replaying the horrible day and obsessing over fears of the impact that the radiation might have on them in the future. Another issue with this book's story structure is how the action abruptly cuts off occasionally for family history flashbacks from the 1940s. Although I found this story interesting, it was too different from the rest of the book to fit in that form, and I wish that the history had simply been shared through dialogue, rather than dramatized in stages, interrupting the main story and lessening its suspense by totally changing gears. However, despite these criticisms that I have of the book, I think that it is wonderful overall, greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend this to fellow Anne Blankman fans and people who enjoy well-written historical fiction. I would be cautious about recommending this book to young readers without knowing their sensitivity levels, since I know that I would have had a hard time dealing with the Chernobyl content and child abuse storyline when I was a middle grade reader. However, Blankman writes this book in a way that is appropriate for that target audience while also appealing to teenagers and adults. This is a great book, and I'm glad I finally got to read it.

  8. 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.

  9. 5 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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/ [email protected]

  12. 4 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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Mcavoy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 4 stars but rounded up because of the importance of the topic and the scarcity of children’s books about it. It is fascinating to me that this year, suddenly, there are several, excellent children’s books set behind the iron curtain. Up until now only the only ones I could find were by Yelchin and Cloud and Wallfish by Nesbit. To me it seems crucial that we expose children to the full spectrum of the history that has shaped the world they are inheriting. As far as I can tell there is no history o 4 stars but rounded up because of the importance of the topic and the scarcity of children’s books about it. It is fascinating to me that this year, suddenly, there are several, excellent children’s books set behind the iron curtain. Up until now only the only ones I could find were by Yelchin and Cloud and Wallfish by Nesbit. To me it seems crucial that we expose children to the full spectrum of the history that has shaped the world they are inheriting. As far as I can tell there is no history of the cold war or any exposure to the disfunction of the totalitarian communist apparatus taught in elementary and middle school. (Red Scarf Girl used to be taught in my school, but no more.) This I believe sets us all up for disaster. There is lots to criticize in a free-ish market system and the utopian promise of communism beckons appealingly. But for any who lived in the 20th century communist iterations, or even visited them, the peril of a one party state was beyond obvious. Kids need to have some passing familiarity with the history of millions who saw on a daily and hourly basis what happens when economic, political and military power is all held by one party that demands absolute devotion and conformity.

  14. 5 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.

  15. 4 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Thoroughly enjoyed this quick read about Valentina and Oksana, 2 young neighbor girls, fleeing from the Chernobyl disaster. Their fathers both worked in at the reactor, and when the disaster happens, they are evacuated. Unfortunately, they are separated from their mothers, and the girls continue on to Leningrad to stay with Valentina's Jewish grandmother. Oksana, having been raised to detest Jews, experiences the true heart of the Jewish family. Former enemies, the girls form a friendship to last Thoroughly enjoyed this quick read about Valentina and Oksana, 2 young neighbor girls, fleeing from the Chernobyl disaster. Their fathers both worked in at the reactor, and when the disaster happens, they are evacuated. Unfortunately, they are separated from their mothers, and the girls continue on to Leningrad to stay with Valentina's Jewish grandmother. Oksana, having been raised to detest Jews, experiences the true heart of the Jewish family. Former enemies, the girls form a friendship to last the ages. The story is told in 2 time periods, that of Rifta in 1941, fleeing from the Germans, and that of the girls in 1986. Ordinarily I enjoy one or the other of the time lines, but in this story I was equally engaged. It would be easy to bog the story with details, but the broad brush approach is appealing and focuses more on the relationships of the characters than the disaster itself. A story of survival, protection, sacrifice, but mostly love, I highly recommend.

  18. 4 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

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josephine

    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 Apri 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)

  20. 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!

  21. 4 out of 5

    DaNae

    When I discovered this began with the Chernobyl accident I almost returned it to the library without going further. Reading in 2020 leads to a reluctance to be reminded of past atrocities. I'm so glad I stuck with it. Turns out, for me, it is one of the standout books of the year. Yes, it deals with many grim moments of the past, but it is infused with such kindness and generosity that hope lingers long after the final page.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott McIlquham

    Fantastic story of 2 girls fleeing the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, and the related story of a girl fleeing Kiev during the German advance of WWII. Wonderful characters and compelling writing grabbed me from the start all the way through to the satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended for 5th grade+, or as a readaloud for 4th grade.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Nothing like reading a book about the Chernobyl disaster while coping with the realities of the coronavirus! But wow, The Blackbird Girls is a gripping story of survival, friendship, and overcoming prejudices. This book will be at the top of my "must read" recommendations.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Easy 5/5 for me 💗😭

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mary E.

    Simply Amazing!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Llyr Heller-Humphreys

    One of the best books I've read this year. This book has it all, friendship, love, family, suspense and wonderful characters.

  27. 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.

  28. 4 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)

  29. 5 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.

  30. 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.

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