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Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062666710
Trade paperback, $15.99, 384 pages

Jennifer Egan's 2017 novel, Manhattan Beach, was set during WWII, and a big part of the story took place at a war factory, filled with women contributing to the war effort. The novel garnered great acclaim, deservedly so.

Janet Beard's The Atomic City Girls will appeal to fans of Manhattan Beach as it tells the fictional account of men and women who worked at a real munitions factory in Oak Ridge, Tennesee.  An entire city was created out of farmlands, and hundreds of people were brought there to work on a top-secret project- creating an atomic bomb.

Very few workers knew what they were working on; only scientists like Dr. Sam Cantor, a physicist from California, knew the true extent of what was going on. Sam found himself attracted to a young farm girl, June, whose grandfather had his land taken by the government for this project. June and Sam dated, even though Sam was a good ten years older than June, and much more sophisticated in the way of the world. He was also an alcoholic, and had a temper.

June's roommate Cici was a farm girl too, but she passed herself off as a society girl, from a good family, there just trying to help the war effort. What she really wanted was a rich husband from a prominent family, and she would do anything or hurt anyone to accomplish that goal.

The most compelling character for me was Joe Brewer. Joe was a black sharecropper who left his loving wife and three children behind in Alabama to go to Tennesee to make enough money for his family. Through Joe, his young protegee Ralph, and the young activist Ralph falls in love with, we see a different side to this great society.

The white workers have decent housing, and good food. June is impressed with the food, it's better than she had at home. The black workers lived in cold, damp huts, and they ate rice and beans for most meals.

Buses would pick up the workers and bring them to the work compounds, but the black riders were frequently tossed off the buses to make room for white workers. White married families were able to live together in houses, black families were separated, men in one hut, women in the other. The black workers on construction crews built the homes, but they were not allowed to live in them.

The Atomic City Girls (the title may be a misnomer, we get the male point of view here as well) is strongest when it shows the reader how the war effort worked in Oak Ridge. Workers were constantly reminded not to talk about their work with anyone, and not to write to their families about it. Letters home were read by government officials, and people were encouraged to turn in anyone who violated these policies.

I liked learning about this project, and the photos from the Department of Energy that are  interspersed throughout the book are fascinating. I was less interested in the love lives of the characters.

People who enjoyed Hidden Figures will also find The Atomic City Girls interesting. I recommend it.

Janet Beard's website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Janet Beard's tour. The rest of  her tour stops are here:

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
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


  1. I read another book about the women who worked there - The Girls of Atomic City - and found it fascinating so I'm sure I'd like this too.