Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Middle Grade Fiction: The Blackbird Girls

I love middle grade books that were set during my childhood.  These would be considered historical fiction to the intended audience, but to me they bring a rush of nostalgia.  

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman is set in the Soviet Union in 1980s - specifically during the Chernobyl explosion.  I was in middle school in 1986 and remember watching the news and hearing about it.  As a child of the 80s, I grew up fearing WWIII would happen someday, and hearing about a nuclear meltdown and radiation travelling thousands of miles in the air did little to quell that anxiety.  

This story focuses on two girls - Oksana and Valentina, rivals who are forced together and become friends.  Both girls' fathers work at Chernobyl and when families are evacuated from Pripyat after the explosion, Oksana is taken in by Valentina's mother. Oksana's mother had too much radiation and was not allowed to leave with the other residents.  Spending time with Valentina's family is the last thing Oksana wants to happen. They are Jewish and Oksana has been taught by her father how disgusting Jews are.  Yet, as time passes and the girls end up in the care of Valentina's grandmother in Leningrad, she sees how loving and caring these people are to her - and begins to question her father's beliefs.  

The Chernobyl disaster is at the forefront of this novel and I loved learning more about it. I also appreciate that girls who are growing up now will learn about this slice of history they most likely knew nothing about.  In addition, I loved the descriptions of the Russian cities and the way everyday life was described in detail. I think that today's generation has no idea what life in the USSR was like for normal citizens.  The themes of friendship and not judging anyone based solely on their religion are also important.  

This was a five-star read for me.  It is the novel I would have loved for someone to place in my hand when I was growing up.  I can't wait to share it with my students at school.

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