Publisher: Puffin Books
Publication date: January 19, 2021
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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On a spring morning in 1986, 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 1941 Rifka must flee Kiev before the Germans arrive. Her journey is harrowing and fraught with danger because Germans and Russians alike will revile her for her Jewish blood.
In both time periods, the girls must learn who to trust and how to have hope in the midst of horrible events.
This is a hard book to read and there are a lot of triggering issues covered - child abuse, genocide, antisemitism. It's a middle-grade book but it does not shy away from tough topics, yet they are delivered in an age-appropriate way through a heart-filled story of friendship and connection across miles and generations. It would be a bit much for sensitive middle-grade readers and I think it offers a lot to teens and adult readers so don't let the middle-grade label turn you off to it.
The Communist USSR and the Chernobyl accident were "big bad bogeymen" that loomed large to me when I was a kid (I was 14 when the Chernobyl accident occurred). I wish more stories like this were available for me to read at the time. Humanizing people whose everyday struggles are different than our own does so much to raise compassion among fellow inhabits of this planet. Read more! Learn more. Love more. I recommend this book to just about anyone. I would be cautious with middle-graders who are particularly sensitive due to the triggering issues in it.
Author’s site: http://www.anneblankman.com/