Review of Black Bird, Blue Road

Black Bird, Blue Road
by Sofiya Pasternack
Middle School    Versify/HarperCollins    320 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-358-57203-9    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-57188-9    $9.99

In the Jewish empire of Khazaria, twelve-year-old Ziva is the only one willing to go near her twin brother, Pesah, who has leprosy (with symptoms described in vivid detail, as are the amputations Ziva performs). A vision Pesah shares with Ziva prompts her to take him on a quest to Byzantium to find a cure, or fight the Angel of Death, or both. The twins encounter figures from Jewish folklore, notably a sheyd (demon) and the aforementioned angel, presented as rounded characters who discuss and debate the nature of mortality with Ziva as she struggles to accept her impending loss with much more fury than Pesah himself has. Pasternack (Anya and the Dragon) writes with a storyteller’s cadence without sacrificing liveliness, keeping emotions front and center (“She’d jab the Angel of Death in every single one of its eyeballs if that meant keeping Pesah safe”). Back matter includes a glossary and an afterword that discusses Khazaria, “for the most part…faded from memory,” and how even elements of this story beyond the obvious fantasy ones are “just my imagining. And who knows? Maybe, twelve hundred years ago, a girl and her brother really did meet a demon and resist the Angel of Death on the steppe.” Ziva and her community (anachronistically) consider her a responsible bat mitzvah now that she’s twelve, and her stubborn insistence on taking on far too much is believable and affecting.

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees.

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