Author: Blankman, Anne
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.
|Accelerated Reader Information:
Interest Level: MG
Reading Level: 4.80
Points: 12.0 Quiz: 509231
Kirkus Reviews (+) (12/15/19)
School Library Journal (+) (03/01/20)
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (A) (00/02/20)
The Hornbook (00/03/20)
Full Text Reviews:
Booklist - 02/15/2020 When Valentina awakes to a red sky marred by billowing blue smoke, she knows something has gone wrong in her home of Pripyat. Her worry only grows when her father doesn’t return from his shift at the Chernobyl power station, the source of the otherworldly fire. But good Soviet citizens don’t ask questions, her mother reminds her, a fact that goes double for children. Despite its best efforts, the government cannot conceal the magnitude of this disaster, and it begins evacuating Pripyat’s residents. When the mother of Oksana—a classmate who bullies Valentina for being Jewish—is placed in quarantine, Valentina’s mother sends both girls to Leningrad to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother. Blankman gives her three female leads complex characters that are revealed by the shifting narration and their interactions with one another. Prejudice and abuse are combated by experience and love, which help all involved to grow. The book’s dangerous atmosphere comes less from the nuclear disaster than it does from the oppressive and watchful government, adding yet another intriguing layer to this well-executed historical novel. - Copyright 2020 Booklist.
School Library Journal - 03/01/2020 Gr 4–7—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. VERDICT 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.—Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia - Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.