The Blackbird Girls

By: Anne Blankman

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.

Author’s note. Resources. Further reading.

ISBN: 9781984837356

JLG Release: Jun 2020


Sensitive Areas: Language: Infrequent Use
Topics: Fantasy , Orphans , Escapes , Fugitives , Revolution , Friendship , Prison , Justice , Activism , Retelling of Les Misérables

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Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Kirkus Reviews*, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal*

School Library Journal

It is 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine, and fifth grade classmates Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are sworn enemies. At home, Oksana’s father physically abuses her and rails against Jewish people, and at school Oksana bullies Valentina, who is Jewish. But when a reactor explodes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both girls’ fathers work It is 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine, and fifth grade classmates Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are sworn enemies. At home, Oksana’s father physically abuses her and rails against Jewish people, and at school Oksana bullies Valentina, who is Jewish. But when a reactor explodes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both girls’ fathers work, they find themselves thrown together in the tumultuous evacuation. With a dead father and a hospitalized mother, Oksana’s only chance of safety is to accompany her classmate to Valentina’s grandmother’s home in distant Leningrad. The warmth and compassion of Valentina and her grandmother shock Oksana, who begins to realize that everything her father told her about Jews was wrong—which means that maybe he was also wrong when he called Oksana weak and unlovable. In time, the two girls learn to trust each other with their respective secrets and develop a life-sustaining friendship. This story, told in Oksana’s and Valentina’s alternating perspectives, is interspersed with a third perspective from 1941, that of Rifka (a Jewish girl fleeing Kiev and the advancing German army on foot), who finds shelter and friendship in Uzbekistan. These tales ultimately intersect, presenting a deeply affecting testament to the power of unlikely friendship in the face of bias, tragedy, and distance. Each strand of the narrative is equally fast paced, gripping, and heartbreaking. Oksana experiences a nuanced evolution in her feelings toward her abusive father, from grief to anger to empowerment, while Valentina grapples with what Judaism—a faith she knows almost nothing about—means to her as she begins to practice in secret with her grandmother, and Rifka loses everything in the process of finding safety and a new family. A detailed author’s note provides further historical background and a recommended reading list. A stunning look at a historical event rarely written about for young people, elevated by strong pacing, emotional depth, and intense, moving friendships that readers will root for. A first purchase.

Book Details

ISBN

9781984837356

First Release

June 2020

Genre

Fic

Dewey Classification

F

Trim Size

8 1/4" x 5 1/2"

Page Count

352

Accelerated Reader

N/A

Scholastic Reading Counts

N/A

Lexile

N/A

Format

Print Book

Edition

Hardcover edition

Publisher

Viking

Potentially Sensitive Areas

Language: Infrequent Use

Topics

Fantasy, Orphans, Escapes, Fugitives, Revolution, Friendship, Prison, Justice, Activism, Retelling of Les Misérables,

Standard MARC Record

Download Standard MARC Record

Cover Art

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Book Genres

Adventure; Fantasy

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