The Atomic City Girls: A Novel

The Atomic City Girls: A Novel

by Janet Beard
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Overview

The Atomic City Girls: A Novel by Janet Beard

“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

 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062666710
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 26,946
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard moved to New York to study screenwriting at NYU and went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from The New School. Janet lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is teaching writing, raising a daughter, and working on a new novel.

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The Atomic City Girls: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hooked by the first chapter and finished the book in a day. Loved it.
gaele More than 1 year ago
Told in four alternating points of view, the story covers a period of approximately 18 months in the secret town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. A government-built community focused on the enrichment of Uranium for use in bombs to be constructed in Los Alamos. Secrecy and isolation were the watchwords of this project, and we get a sense of what ‘may’ have been their thoughts. Cici, an uneducated country girl with a mean streak, determination to marry rich and a determination to run over anyone who dared stand in her way. June, a young girl from the local area, following in her sister’s footsteps, with an insatiable curiosity and enjoyment in all of the worlds being opened to her. Joe, a sharecropper from Alabama who left his wife and children behind with hopes for a better life, more money and opportunity. Lastly Sam, a physicist with promise, recruited for that promise to work in the laboratories. Each person is wholly different with differing levels of self-awareness and the ‘end game’ for the project. A segregated town that was growing up by leaps and bounds: Joe’s story takes us through the hazards of a black man navigating the discrimination, continuing to work and ignore the many temptations (moonshine, cards, dice) while reining in the anger and determination of some to claim a double victory (victory in Germany, democracy at home) for those who would wait an additional two plus decades. Joe’s story brought the inequities and potential dangers for those who worked tirelessly with sub-par food, housing and opportunity: while building the complex. Cici was a tangential character: first introducing June to the wonders of Oak Hill – cafeterias, movie theatre, dances, bowling alleys, until her true nature started to show. Threatening a roommate in the dormitory, stringing many men along on her search for ‘the one’ rich enough to capture her and provide the living she dreamed of, even as she first groomed, then tried to destroy June. June’s story is the most consistent and complete of the four: a near constant presence her curiosity about the purpose of her work, her genuine enjoyment of the newness of the world she had entered, and her enjoyment of the newness of her relationship with Sam: the ability to discuss her fears, her concerns and ask questions and learn from him. Even her attempts to lighten Sam’s load and keep his depression and drinking to a minimum were done selflessly. Her rise from simple ‘dial monitor’ to secretary for Sam in the laboratories, her abilities to overcome her basic start and move forward, learning more about people, herself and the purpose of Oak Ridge. Lastly is Sam: a physicist and a Jew, he’s one who loves the science and the progress that this project has brought, while still struggling with his place and progress in building a bomb that, while it ends a war, will wreak untold havoc and suffering. An intellectual snob, with a decided lack of interpersonal skills: he hates everything about Tennessee; weather, accents, mud, locals, segregation and above all the overwhelming secrecy- where nothing is plain spoken. He’s trying to align his own personal hates (which make him a rather disagreeable person) with the work he loves, but downtime is a trial. When his relationship with Jane starts – he’s changing, slightly, with a new purpose – educate and guide this ignorant young girl to the world. Oh – he alternated between arrogant and needy, with a good dose of self-righteous acting out.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Excellent book, well written & informative, especially enjoyed sequence list at end of book outlining yearly events before & after atomic bomb on Japan.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Enjoyed the DIFFERENT view points, the setting , the characters and of course the end. If you like historical fiction , must read...did it in 3 days....while working full time and expecting!
Anonymous 11 months ago
I loved this book. This is one I will read again.
bookchickdi 11 months ago
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.
whatsbetterthanbooks 12 months ago
Atmospheric, authentic, and immersive! The Atomic City Girls is a fascinating story that sweeps you away to Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the mid-1940s when WWII was raging on the battlefields of Europe, and back home the American government was funding a top-secret project that would triumphantly and tragically have a resounding effect on the entire world for years to come. The prose is captivating and vividly described. The four main characters June, Sam, Cici, and Joe are unique, hardworking, and patriotic. And the plot, interspersed with real-life photos, is a compelling story about life, love, friendship, self-discovery, segregation, survival, tragedy, war, romance, uranium enrichment, nuclear weapons, and morality. Overall, The Atomic City Girls is a well-written, exceptionally researched novel that does a remarkable job of highlighting Beard’s incredible knowledge into a period and historical event that is often forgotten or overlooked.
PeppermintPhd More than 1 year ago
The Why? It blows my mind how much I think I know about American history only to find out there is so much more to learn and so much more I actually don't know. I'm overwhelmed at times about things I think I know but possibly could be just what I've been taught to know. First Impressions When I first began reading, the photographs throughout the book kept me looking ahead for more. At first, I thought the story was going to be about a young farm girl who loses her fiancee in the war and heals her heart through "men's work" during the war. Boy, was I wrong. The Atomic City Girls is so much more. The Publisher's Summary 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. My Perspective Beard's characters carry her story, particularly Charlie and Ann, Sam and June, Cici and Tom, Joe and Moriah. You either very quickly like them or you don't...and then you may change your mind depending on how they interact with the other characters within this fabricated city where most of them are happily ignorant of the true reason they are all together in this place. Happily ignorant. I think that was the most difficult for me. The few who had issues with their real purpose at Oak Ridge, TN were in the minority. The others succumbed deeply to propaganda that most of us today would scoff at. Or, at least I hope we would. The winds of change are beginning to blow in Oak Ridge, however, and Beard addresses those issues from a variety of viewpoints so the reader fully understands the difficulties involved with changing society...difficulties that I believe we take for granted today. The Google Factor (I'm a nerd) The Manhattan Project Department of Energy Atomic City Oak Ridge, TN Y-12 calutron uranium, electrons, plutonium, separating isotopes amount of money spent on this and other similar projects Oak Ridge Woman's Club African Americans at Oak Ridge, TN Colored Camp Council building the atomic bomb Norris Dam FDR Women Scientists who worked on the atomic bomb