- Expected Mar 10, 2020
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.
In April 1986, in the village of Pripyat, Ukraine, two fifth-grade nemeses are thrown together following the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, which kills both of their fathers, one immediately, one through radiation poisoning. During evacuation, Oksana, who has been taught that "all Jews are liars," protests in alarm when Valentina's mother assumes responsibility for her. Valentina, meanwhile, resents the unwelcome accompaniment of her school adversary. After traveling to Leningrad, they board with Valentina's formerly estranged grandmother, who secretly practices Judaism. Alternating between each girl's perspective, the narrative also includes occasional interludes about Rivka, a 12-year-old girl who flees Ukraine in 1941, running from the German army that has slaughtered her family. Gradually, Oksana and Valentina develop a bond that mirrors Rivka's friendship with a Muslim girl who saved her life during WWII. Blankman (Traitor Angels) conveys Russia's entrenched anti-Semitism, as well as the constant vigilance required of citizens living in a police state, through the children's eyes, as they observe adults' fear of being overheard or spied on, and field constant reminders not to criticize authority. This engrossing work of historical fiction captures Chernobyl's devastating impact on land and people while upholding the power of kindness to overcome prejudice and withstand oppression. Ages 9 12.