by Janet Beard
Why I chose this book? I read and enjoyed The Girls of Atomic City
When I read this book? February 2018
Who should read this book? Readers interested in WWII historical fiction and the Manhattan project
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
My Rating: ✰✰✰✰ 4 Stars
• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 6, 2018)
“Focuses on the little-known realities behind the Manhattan Project […] Readers who enjoyed Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls will appreciate this glimpse into the beliefs and attitudes that shaped America during World War II.”— Library Journal
In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes this riveting novel of the everyday people who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.
“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”
In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.
The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.
When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.
“The Atomic City Girls is a fascinating and compelling novel about a little-known piece of WWII history.”—Maggie Leffler, international bestselling author (Globe and Mail) of The Secrets of Flight
I enjoyed this story very much, and I really like the cover! I’d previously read The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan, a nonfiction book covering the same period of time and events and I enjoyed very much.
This is the story of a young woman, June, who is fresh out of high school and ready for her first job. She comes to comes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to join many other people in a secret project to end the horrible war that affects them all! We also meet Joe, and African American man who has temporarily left his family behind in hopes of bettering their lives with the higher pay available to him at Oak Ridge. As we follow their stories, we get to know many other people from their lives, including June’s roommate, Cici, and her boyfriend, Sam, a physicist trusted with much more detail of the Manhattan project than many on the site.
There was a good amount of the history in this book, but more than facts, the book really gives us a feel for what life must have been like at Oak Ridge. We learn about the secrecy involved—I have to wonder if maintaining that kind of secrecy would be possible today! But one of the reasons it was then is that the young women feared for the safety of their young men fighting overseas, a fear that almost everyone in the US experiences at the time and one that most of us now have not. We feel the bustle of the community and can almost taste the dust raised by the building of Oak Ridge. We experience the segregation and discrimination that was an accepted part of life for African Americans in that period of our history, as the men are not allowed to bring their families along and they live in primitive ‘hutments’ with little protection from the elements. We also get a peek at how women were thought of in that; meant to be pretty, but not capable of deep thought or understanding of complex ideas. And we even get a quick explanation of on of those ‘too-complex-for-a-woman’ (opinion of scientists at Oak Ridge, not me!) subjects—the process of refining uranium for the bomb!
One thing I really appreciated about this book is that there is an epilogue. I always appreciate when an author does not leave me hanging, wondering what became of the characters I’ve grown to care about. I can’t say this was the ending I would have chosen, or that ‘they all lived happily ever after’ but it is a satisfying ending.
This is successful historical fiction; it made me curious to know more! I was once involved with a community organization and worked with an older woman who told me she’d worked on the Manhattan project during WWII. At the time I didn’t know much about the project and assumed she was a scientist working in New Mexico. Recently I’ve come to wonder if she might have worked at Oak Ridge and how much she actually knew about the project! I wish she were here to ask!
I have to point out that the title is a bit misleading. A better title would have been ‘The PEOPLE of Atomic City’ as only two of the main characters were female. I enjoyed the book, but the story was just as much about an African American man and a physicist as it was about the women. If you are really interested in learning more about the real women who worked at Oak Ridge and their experiences, I highly suggest you pick up a copy of The Women of Atomic City!
About Janet Beard
Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.
This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I won a copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
Janet’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, February 6th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, February 7th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, February 8th: Literary Quicksand
Friday, February 9th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, February 12th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, February 13th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, February 14th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, February 15th: Time 2 Read
Monday, February 19th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, February 20th: Openly Bookish
Wednesday, February 21st: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, February 22nd: Bibliotica
Monday, February 26th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, February 27th: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_
Wednesday, February 28th: Instagram: @theliterarybirds
Thursday, March 1st: bookchickdi