Atomic Anna

  • Kirkus *STARRED* Review
  • Publishers Weekly *STARRED* review

Three brilliant women.
Two life-changing mistakes.
One chance to reset the future.

From the author of A Bend in the Stars, an epic adventure as three generations of women work together and travel through time to prevent the Chernobyl disaster and right the wrongs of their past.

In 1986, renowned nuclear scientist, Anna Berkova, is sleeping in her bed in the Soviet Union when Chernobyl’s reactor melts down. It’s the exact moment she tears through time—and it’s an accident. When she opens her eyes, she’s landed in 1992 only to discover Molly, her estranged daughter, shot in the chest. Molly, with her dying breath, begs Anna to go back in time and stop the disaster, to save Molly’s daughter Raisa, and put their family’s future on a better path.

In ‘60s Philadelphia, Molly is coming of age as an adopted refusenik. Her family is full of secrets and a past they won’t share. She finds solace in comic books, drawing her own series, Atomic Anna, and she’s determined to make it as an artist. When she meets the volatile, charismatic Viktor, their romance sets her life on a very different course.

In the ‘80s, Raisa, is a lonely teen and math prodigy, until a quiet, handsome boy moves in across the street and an odd old woman shows up claiming to be her biological grandmother. As Raisa finds new issues of Atomic Anna in unexpected places, she notices each comic challenges her to solve equations leading to one impossible conclusion: time travel. And she finally understands what she has to do.

As these remarkable women work together to prevent the greatest nuclear disaster of the 20th century, they grapple with the power their discoveries hold. Just because you can change the past, does it mean you should?

Select praise for Atomic Anna

An incredible achievement. . . As ambitious as a Greek tragedy and just as lyrical and unflinching.


Barenbaum burnishes her reputation as an up-and-coming talent with this audacious time travel story... The threads build toward a deeply satisfying denouement, and the author uses the sci-fi plot device to explore parent-child relationships and questions about the morality of changing the past. Barenbaum dares greatly, and succeeds.

Publishers Weekly - STARRED REVIEW

Rachel Barenbaum’s latest novel is about Chernobyl, yes, but also about comic books, the power of math, finding one’s truth, and love, both biological and found... Wonderful... The novel is masterfully plotted.

New York Times

If Barenbaum’s debut A Bend In The Stars is read as a quest — a race against time and across the Russian countryside as both World War I and the solar eclipse of 1914 loom over the heroes and their fates — this novel triples down on the author’s ability to see history through the lens of the fantastic as much as the human, to go, like her characters, “beyond what logic dictates.” It’s a leap, and she lands it.

LA Review of Books

In the book’s acknowledgments, Barenbaum notes that her inspiration for “Atomic Anna” was a 2020 New York Times article about a “real-life cosmic ray research station on Mount Aragats.” Countless people read that article. Only Barenbaum used it as a launchpad to create a multi-dimensional, splendidly crafted novel.


Full of breath-holding tension and fraught family dynamics, this sci-fi/historical genre bender is a must-read.

Buzz Feed

Barenbaum masterfully switches back and forth among the women’s lives, detailing their struggles with intergenerational trauma and personal aspirations as well as how they grapple with their Jewish identity.

Hadassah Magazine
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Supplemental Materials
Reading Group Guide Atomic Anna Comic Art