The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Recent Historical Fiction
Length: Full Length (363 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

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.
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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.

A different look at the way things were in Oak Ridge.

I picked this book up because it’s on the list of books we’re considering reading for the local reading group. I’d read The Girls of Atomic City and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to this take on Oak Ridge. I’m glad I picked up this book. Really. I have some quibbles with it, but it’s a quick read and an interesting point of view on life at Oak Ridge.

One of my quibbles is with the characters. I didn’t really root for any of them. I didn’t see any of them–save for a secondary one–as someone I’d like to have for a friend. I did get emotionally involved in the story, so that’s going for the book. I wanted to clunk a couple of the characters on the head. But the thing is, some of the characters were rather immature. I get they were young when they arrived at Oak Ridge, the naivete, and in some ways negativity, made me want to skip pages.

Still, this is an interesting take on what the people went through in Oak Ridge. Racial bias, loose-lips-sink-ships, being wary of everyone…it’s vividly told.

If you’re looking for a book that’s different and involves the work at Oak Ridge, then this might be the book for you.

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