• 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
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During WWII, a small farming town in Tennessee was quietly demolished and a government facility popped up nearly overnight. The facility at Oak Ridge hired many young woman to spin dial and push levers, but none of the young women knew what they were working on, only that they received decent pay and housing. Among the young women were scientists, military and families all living and working under tight security and keeping secrets. Many people working there didn't know what they were working on or the consequences. One of the women working at Oak Ridge is eighteen year old June, a local girl whose grandfather once lived where Oak Ridge now sits. June and her roommate Cici quickly become acclimated to the strange life at Oak Ridge. Cici's goal while at Oak Ridge is simple to strip away her penniless background and emerge as a well-bred young woman who can catch the eye of an affluent man. June, on the other hand would like to move on from the death of her fiance, Ronnie and enjoy life again. June may find the answer in physicist, Dr. Samuel Cantor. However, as their relationship grows, Sam shares the secrets of what exactly everyone at Oak Ridge is working on and the mental toll of what they are doing begins to trouble Sam more and more.
This is a fictionalized account of the historic town of Oak Ridge that captures a small piece of several employee's stories. The Atomic City Girls is a lighter story than the non-fiction The Girls of Atomic City; however, it is still just as important in the sense that it brings to light the important work that was done during the war by a variety of people. Throughout the book, we follow the stories of June, Cici, Samuel and Joe. So, I did find the title a little bit of a misnomer, although, all of their stories are important. One aspect that is very well highlighted are the stories of Ralph, Joe and Shirley, the African-American workers at Oak Ridge. While working, they were segregated and discriminated against and worked towards as well as gained some equal rights while at Oak Ridge. June's story was the most compelling to me as we learned about the tight security and how the young women were trained as well as the diverse social life offered at Oak Ridge. Sam's point of view offered a look at the mental struggle of the people who knew exactly what they were building and what it would accomplish. The story was accompanied by actual photos of Oak Ridge, which helped to beef up the historical aspects, however I do wish there was just a little more history in my historical fiction.
This book was received in exchange for an honest review.