Review: Black Bird, Blue Road

Black Bird, Blue Road

by Sofiya Pasternack

Versify (imprint of HarperCollins), 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judy Greenblatt

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Warning - difficult territory ahead. However, if you don't mind a graphic description of leprosy and how to treat it, and you are not afraid to think about death, you may well find Black Bird, Blue Road a fascinating, thought provoking book. 
In this historical fantasy, 12 year old Ziva runs away with her invalid twin brother Pesah by hitching two of her family’s horses to their disused wagon, loading it with provisions for the horses, herself and her brother, including his wheelchair, and taking off into the night, in what she thinks in the direction Constantinople. They soon join forces with Almas, a half demon who has some remarkable skills. We also meet the Angel of Death – who may turn out to be a little different from what you would expect. The characters are well rounded, thoughtful, and clearly differentiated. This is an exciting story that considers questions of loyalty and trust, justice and equality, life and death. More important than the fact that Pesah is dying are questions of how one lives, and how one dies, of the value of life, and what makes a life worth living, and whether one life is worth more than another. While the answers suggested in the story will not fit everyone, the questions are important.

Jewish content is woven seamlessly into the story. Ziva bat Leah is a bat mitzvah; she is the daughter of a judge and the sister of a prophet, and she knows about the malach ha-mavet, the Angel of Death. Her most treasured possession is a pin that depicts Deborah the prophet sitting under her tree. Ziva’s implacable loyalty to her twin brother is part of the strong Jewish concern for family. Her equally implacable sense of justice, and her willingness to fight for it, is another Jewish value that runs through the book.

Illustrations by Safiya Zerrougui include cover art and pages that separate the sections of the story. The artwork is in a style that reflects the location of the medieval Khazar Empire. Three useful glossaries are included: one general, one of names, and one of locations. 
This unique story is certainly a contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Judith S. Greenblatt says: I hold a Master of Library Service from Rutgers-The State University, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College, Newton, Ma. I started my career as a Judaic Librarian as Librarian at the Michael Lichtenstein Memorial Library, Temple B'nai Israel, Toledo, Ohio. as Director of Library Services at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Rhode Island, served as Vice President and President of the School, Synagogue and Center Division of AJL. Publications include: 1985-86 Book lists; for young children, for 3rd to 6th graders, for young adults, 100 Plus Books For The Children's Library: A Basic Collection. Weine Classification Scheme for Judaica Libraries. Revised by Judith S. Greenblatt, Chairman. 8th edition. Association of Jewish Libraries, Synagogue, School and Center Division, 1994.