Reviews /

Escape from Chernobyl

Authored by Andy Marino
Published by Scholastic

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Escape from Chernobyl follows how the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 changes the lives of three Soviet teenagers: Yuri, who’s 16, his 13-year-old cousin, Alina, and their friend Sofiya who all live comfortable lives in Pripyat, Ukraine. Yuri is an intern at the power plant who dreams of joining the ranks of nuclear engineers and working there when he hears the explosions of the reactor accident. Sofiya’s father, a nuclear engineer, warns her to stay inside and rushes to the plant to help. Meanwhile, Alina is forced to leave her friend and cousin behind as her family is secretly hustled out of the city by a Communist Party official who knows the truth.

Andy Marino clearly takes a few liberties in fictionalising the events that unfold, but the book appears to be well researched and vividly portrays the Chernobyl disaster. The details paint a picture of the time and place, scattering some italicized Russian terms and their explanations throughout. The story steers a delicate line in recounting these tragic and politically complex events, mostly with success. There are a few gory moments that may disturb some readers but excluding them would sanitize the human cost of the disaster. However, one should ensure that sensitive readers are warned about this beforehand. Quite why some of the characters behaved in the way that they did might stretch an older reader’s credibility, though for young readers, who may not question this, this provides additional excitement and tension until the final denouement.

It might be a little confusing at times as events were told through different points of view (young readers might find this tricky to follow), but as a class read aloud this could be explained as the story unfolds perhaps. As an informational historical fiction book with rigorous vocabulary, it could offer opportunities for extended learning, research and discussions. There is a brief bibliography, and it would also be worth exploring the pictures of Chernobyl over the last 35 years that are available online. Having said that, this is a fiction book, based on a series of events that many young readers will be too young to remember, a horrific occurrence that many people today don’t know about or have forgotten. Marino does a first-rate job of depicting not only the survival aspects of the explosion, but also to give a brief but interesting look into Soviet socio-political outlooks at that time, and plenty of details about the power plant and what exactly went wrong (from details that have been disclosed). For readers who love reading about disasters, this one is worth considering.