The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman is an early edition copy I received. I decided to read this book due to its subject matter around the Chernobyl explosion, which is a new historical fiction time frame for me.
The main characters are Valentina and Oksana. They begin as enemies but grow to be lifelong friends due to experiences that link them together. Their fathers were both working at Chernobyl when it erupted. Now they are being forced to evacuate their town. Oksana’s mother is sent to a hospital for radiation leaving Oksana with nobody to care for her. Valentina’s mother decides to take her with them. This sets the girls off on a new path living with Valentina’s grandmother (whom she has never met) in Leningrad.
Family history becomes a parallel story throughout the book, as “new” character Rifka is sent away from her mother and young brothers to escape the German soldiers during WWII. Eventually, the two stories’ connection is understood.
The plot is mostly engaged with the girls’ struggles and changes. But, I found it interesting to read about how the explosion was at first kept hidden. There are also tidbits about how they treated radiation exposure such as drinking milk, eating cucumbers, taking iodine pills, and staying low to the ground to name a few. For many, the exposure was too high for these remedies to work.
Sensitive topics of religious discrimination, physical abuse, and alcoholism are present. These topics are balanced by friends who become family with a message of being strong, kind, and generous. It is a jump into a time period that may be unfamiliar to some, which can be a gateway to nonfiction about the place and time.