Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls
by Kate Moore

Why I chose this book? A book combining mystery, crime, history and more
When I read this book? March 2016
Who should read this book? Readers of narrative nonfiction
Here is a synopsis of The Radium Girls from Goodreads
My Rating:  ★★★★★       5 Stars

The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice...

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.

My Review

Wow! This book is amazing,. The story is a nonfiction account of the young women who lost their lives due to industrial radium poisoning. Though it is nonfiction, it reads like a novel; a horrifying, heartbreaking novel!

The story starts in 1917 just before the outbreak of WWI, when the US is in love with radium and the idea of radium as a health benefit. Yes — people actually believed that swallowing radium would make you healthy!! So when a company in Orange, NJ opens a business manufacturing watch dials that glow-in-the-dark because the numbers are painted with radium-infused paint, no one has a problem with this. To increase productivity, the girls are taught to ‘lip-point’ their brushes to a fine point - bring the brush to their lips and twist to a fine point, then dip into the paint, and paint the fine numbers...then repeat….over and over and over, ingesting a bit of radium with each repetition. Very soon, the girls started getting sick with horrible symptoms; teeth falling out, jaw bones rotting, etc. Yet still — the company maintained that radium is safe and encouraged the girls to continue their work!

When you pick this book up it feels like a long, heavy read, but I flew through it, hardly able to put it down. The story is a mix of medical drama, courtroom drama, and family drama. At first things were a little confusing for me as their are so many characters, and some had similar names, but unfortunately that is not the author’s imagination, but a result of the sad fact that so many young women were affected. Quickly the names got easier to keep straight as I got to know and care about the women and their families, and of course as time went on there were fewer women left. My only suggestion to improve the book would be to include a more complete table of contents referring to the date and place of the chapters, These are given in chapter headings but not listed in the table of contents. It would have made it a little easier to go back to refer to earlier information when I became confused.

There is an epilogue included and I have to say it left me shocked! There is so much more I could tell you about this story, but you really should read it for yourself. And then encourage your book club to read it, because you are going to want to talk about it!

To see examples of some of the health benefits attributed to radium, visit Messy Nessy Chic. You can visit to view an interview with author Kate Moore. To read an article about one of the last surviving Radium Girls, visit the NPR website.
I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book through the recent "Sneak Peek" Contest.
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  1. OOOOO!!! This sounds like it is right down my alley. It always makes me wonder where we would be with people not brave enough to do this kind of work. How scary to have all those symptoms and to simply be told to keep your head down and keep working!

  2. This sounds so good! I love nonfiction with a gripping plot :)