Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Radiant Girl

Radiant Girl by Andrea White, Bright Sky Press, 2008

The idea that the events surrounding the Chernobyl Disaster can now be classified as "historical fiction" is somewhat dismaying to me as I recall the news reports as a current event, not a historical one. Young people today though, have very little if any knowledge of the accident and the culpability of the government that could have prevented it.

Katya is anticipating cake and presents on her eleventh birthday and the celebration with her family and friends is wonderful. That night though, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station goes critical and her life is never the same.

The reader will be incredulous at the breathtaking silence and then false assurances of safety from the Soviet government in the hours and days following the accident. Children were sent home from school with only a simple admonishment that "the outdoors is dangerous." Katya's father, who works at the plant, continues there despite having received a large dose of radiation on the night of the explosion. Katya's Uncle Victor warns them all of the danger but her father will not listen.

It is several days before families in the area are ordered to evacuate. Katya and her mother are put on a bus and sent to Kiev where they are met with suspicion and fear that they are radioactive.

Underlying the confusion and world-gone-mad emotions she is feeling, there is the mystery of the strange boy she met in the forest the night of the accident. He predicted the accident and warned Katya that her life was about to change. Was he real or was he an imaginary being from the folktales her grandmother used to tell her?

Katya learns the truth about radiation poisoning and the danger it poses for her country. She is worried and furious about her father's seemingly blind devotion to the Communist Party and a government that lied to the victims of the disaster and to the workers who are now part of the clean up.

Even though time provides some healing, the horrible legacy of Chernobyl stalks her family and her country. Ultimately Katya must find a way to move forward and put the past to rest. The idea of disaster and recovery is certainly relevant in the aftermath of September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and the worsening economic news of today.

White has done extensive research and visited the Dead Zone. Do read her very funny account, "Radioactive Author," of a school program where she discussed her visit there with the kids.

She provides a glossary, references and even footnotes facts within the story. Thinking as a teacher- librarian, this would be useful to share with students as a good example of documenting sources.

I liked this book so much. I admit I found myself mentally shouting, "Look out! Get out of there!" to the characters. This is a very moving story.

Semicolon Interview with Andrea White

Andrea White Website

Andrea White's Blog, Passionate Supporter


Jean said...

Wow. I will definitely have to read this. It does feel very weird to have Chernobyl as historical fiction, it feels like it was too recent. I always get so overwhelmed when I read about it...

That said, can I just say that I really hate it when things use fake "Russian" fonts that make A's out of what are, in fact, D's? Thank goodness the R's aren't backwards, I might have to hit something.

Rawley said...

Thanks for the great review! I admit to knowing little about the Chernobyl Disaster and this sounds like not only a fascinating history lesson but an intriguing story as well.

tanita✿davis said...

This is really why I want to write and read more historical fiction. It's sort of dizzying to talk to some teens; there's so much information coming into their worlds that actual facts about the known world are drowned out. This happened. We should remember. If we forget, we repeat, is what we should know...