A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Details about what it was like long ago to have leprosy, today called Hansen's disease, the specific terrible ailments that come with it, the stigma and how the infected were moved to isolated colonies. Takes place in Khazaria, an empire of Turkic Jews centered near present-day Ukraine that fell in 988 BCE. Jewish holidays and traditions are discussed, especially Rosh Hashanah, and culturally specific supernatural creatures -- malachim/angels, sheydim/trickster demons -- play important roles in the story. Many references to influences from the larger Byzantine Empire (especially clothing tastes) and Greek influences (especially pastries). Extensive glossary in back even includes the meanings of characters' names.
Strong messages about facing grief and loss. Death is a part of life. Your value doesn't depend on intelligence alone; there are many qualities that are just as important, like integrity. Don't judge a person by their illness, their parents, or where they come from.
Positive Role Models
We find out on the first page what a dedicated sister 12-year-old Ziva is to her sick twin brother, Pesah. She cuts off his finger that has been taken by leprosy when no one else will and keeps him company despite the risk to her own health. She's very quick to anger and to judge others, especially her parents for ostracizing her brother, and feels every injustice he and others face deeply. It's her sheer determination, courage, and stubborn refusal to give in to her brother's progressing illness that keeps her focused on her perilous journey.
All main characters are Jewish from Khazaria, an empire of Turkic Jews near present-day Ukraine that fell in 988 BCE. They practice the Jewish faith and traditions; holidays are discussed. Harmonious mixing of cultures and languages that existed at that time and place: Greek, Persian, and those from the Byzantium Empire.
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Violence & Scariness
Begins with main character Ziva amputating her twin brother Pesah's gangrenous finger -- caused by leprosy. This and burial of the finger, and extent of Pesah's injuries, are described in detail. Characters are literally fighting with and chased by the Angel of Death for the entire book as Pesah gets sicker. Some fighting with fists, a kidnapping, and characters killed, with few details. Some scary imagery, including shapeshifting wolves, sinister shadows, and a clawed sheyd/demon that rises from the water to attack. The story of a boy who loses his parents to illness and is kidnapped.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some hand-holding and talk of marriage and finding a husband.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Sofiya Pasternack's Black Bird, Blue Road is a fantasy that takes place in Khazaria, an ancient empire of Turkic Jews centered near present-day Ukraine. We find out on the first page what a dedicated sister 12-year-old Ziva is to her sick twin brother, Pesah. She cuts off his finger that has been taken by leprosy when no one else will. The amputation process as well as the burial of the finger and the extent of Pesah's injuries are described in detail. The characters are literally fighting and chased by the Angel of Death for the entire book as Pesah continues to get sicker. There's some fighting with fists and a kidnapping, and characters are killed, with few details. Some scary imagery includes shapeshifting wolves, sinister shadows, and a clawed sheyd/demon that rises from the water to attack. At the heart of the story is the essential idea that death and grieving are natural parts of life. So this is a great read-along with kids who have faced loss. While they are transported to a magical time and place, they will see how the strong and resilient character Ziva struggles to cope with her own grief.
Is It Any Good?
This moving fantasy-adventure with ancient Jewish roots tackles grief and loss in a fresh landscape with fascinating characters. Ziva is a force of nature. She wants to be a judge like her father and sees death as a great injustice to her brilliant twin who has so much promise. Her drive is relentless to get him the help he needs. It's the only way you believe that she would leave her parents without a backward glance and only a fleeting thought or two that they may be worried sick. It's a good thing Almas arrives when he does to help support her and challenge her in equal measure when Pesah gets sicker, the way to safety becomes harder to find, and the Angel of Death closes in. You feel her desperation with every mile of the arduous journey and feel for the decisions she needs to make in the end. Tissues aplenty will be required.
Black Bird, Blue Road is unique in so many wonderful ways. The setting is both ancient and brand-new, a rarely heard tale about the Jewish empire stretching over the steppes of modern-day Ukraine and Turkey. The melding of the historical with folklore feels natural in this world, especially in one children are forced to navigate by themselves. There are sheydim/trickster demons and shapeshifters all around, and mysterious knowing ravens that bring Pesah many small gifts along the journey. A mystical air always surrounds the story, helped along by the narration that begins each of the four parts. It addresses the reader directly and encourages speculation about what impossible directions the tale will turn next. It's like you're sitting around a campfire, out on the steppes, staring up at the stars, and ready to be transported by a fantastic storyteller. And you will be transported.
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