[The Blackbird Girls]: A Review

Hi y’all!

Hope you are having a wonderful summer and staying cool! We are surviving our hot hot hot days. Anyone else ready for fall?

I am so excited to share my review of The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman. I absolutely loved this book and felt fundamentally changed after finishing it. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and so important.

One of my favorite books read this year!! I absolutely loved it.

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Book Summary: “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.”

What a fascinating time in history; I had never read a book set in this time period. There is so much to discover in this novel: the Russian government, public policy, schooling, religion and antisemitism, history and war, Chernobyl and that nuclear disaster. I learned so much and was captivated by the timelines and the historical accounts. What a unique time and place to set a novel. I loved that so much of this novel is based on the experiences of people the author knows. It adds more depth and importance to the story. So fascinating to read about how information is given, twisted, and withheld.

I loved the friendship between Valentina and Oksana. Their journeys are so well described — both beautiful and heart wrenching. Such different girls with different backgrounds but I love how they grow a beautiful friendship. I cried with them. I grieved with them for the loss of family, home, school, stability, and peace. I rejoiced when they felt safe, loved, and celebrated. I held my breath as they sought freedom, safety, and love. Loved the birthday party for Oksana and how truly Valentina’s grandmother cares for the girls and shows how she loves them. She is everything a grandmother should be — kind, caring, fiercely loyal and loving, and willing to do anything for those she loves. One of my favorite characters because of her depth and compassion and loyalty to her faith. It was a beautiful tribute to the power of friendship and of true love in times of unspeakable hardship and fear.

I also loved the dual timeline with Ritka’s story during the German invasion of WWII. Again in a time of fear, anger, and pain, we find friendship saving lives. There is hope in the darkest of situations even amidst unspeakable pain and horror. I was really moved by Ritka’s experiences and all her hardships. I wept with her when she heard the worst news, and celebrated her safety and strength with her blackbird girl. Very well done in the two timelines and loved getting inside the heads of all three main characters.

I think it’s important to acknowledge some difficult topics in this book. This book tackles some tough issues like child abuse, family death, war, and intense antisemitism both in WWII and 1986. I think these hard topics are discussed with grace and clarity. I learned a lot about these time periods and the harmful ways people treated each other. This is not a book for young readers as there is some violence and clear verbal abuse towards children. However, these are important issues to discuss and I think this book offers a lot to discuss with my kids when they are older.

An important and incredible book!


What books have changed you after reading them?
Do you have any favorite WWII novels?

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