Published by Viking Books for Young Readers
Summary: Valentina and Oksana are enemies at school, partly because Oksana has been taught to hate Jews like Valentina and her family. When they wake up one April morning, it’s obvious that there’s been an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both their fathers work, but the residents of the town of Pripyat are unfazed by it. In the next few days, though, the full horror begins to be revealed, and a series of unexpected events results in both girls being sent to live with Valentina’s grandmother, whom Valentina has never met. The story is told in the alternating voices of the two girls, interspersed with a 1941 account of a girl named Rifka fleeing Kiev ahead of the Nazis. As Oksana and Valentina become good friends and share their secrets, Babulya is recalling the friendship she formed with a girl named Feruza who rescued her back in 1941. When Valentina and Babulya learn of Oksana’s troubled home life, they hatch a daring plan that tests the girls’ friendship, as well as that of Rifka and Feruza, still close after so many years. Includes an author’s note with additional historical information, resources for those facing abuse, and a list for additional reading. 356 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: This has been on my to-be-read list since March, and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. Featuring a cast of brave and resourceful young girls, this story makes the history come alive. It’s definitely on my top ten list for 2020 middle grade novels, and I hope it will win some awards.
Cons: Between all the historical events, the three different points of view, and the movement back and forth between 1941 and 1986, it’s a pretty complex story that younger readers might struggle with.