Jewish Values: Blackbird Girls, The

Place of Publication: 
New York
Publication Year: 
Number of Pages: 
352 p.
Chernobyl, 1986. Tweens Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to a sky glowing crimson and filled with a strange, thick, blue smoke, and a city lined with police officers. Both girls’ fathers work the night shift at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, where it appears a fire has broken out. While they attend the same school, Valentina, who is Jewish, is hated by Oksana, whose father blames the Jews for his lack of promotion. Thus, begins this compelling story of government cover-ups, improbable friendships and ultimate redemption all surrounded by the tragic events in Chernobyl almost 35 years ago. In separate chapters woven through the story of Chernobyl, is a 1941 Holocaust narrative involving Rifka, whose story is set in Kiev, Ukraine, and encompasses hiding, forever friendship and eventual safety. As the Chernobyl story unfolds, Oksana is required to travel with Valentina to Leningrad, where they are welcomed into Valentina’s grandmother’s home. There, Oksana must overcome the messages she learned from her abusive father about Jews and about herself and learn to accept and trust the loving kindness shown to her by Valentina’s family. Rifka is Valentina’s grandmother; she escaped from the Nazis in Kiev. The two stories come together when Rifka’s best friend, who saved her life in Uzbekistan during WWII agrees to help Oksana escape her abusive life in Russia. Russian society in the 1980s with its culture of antisemitism and mistrust, along with details of the Chernobyl disaster and its cover-up, join with family, friendship, and trust in this page-turner based on a true story. Highly readable and compelling, this book’s powerful message is ultimately about the power of friendship to save lives, the ability of survivors to trust people who truly love them and the willingness to create a life filled with happiness despite trauma. An “Author’s Note” detailing the basis for this story, “Resources” for people experiencing emotional or physical abuse, and “Further Reading” about living in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1980s are all provided at the back of the book.
Sydney Taylor Winner: