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The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

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This novel’s Atomic City girls are young women who got jobs during World War II in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, without knowing that the town of 75,000 was built from scratch by the Army Corps of Engineers in relatively isolated East Tennessee valleys served by unlimited Tennessee Valley Authority electricity in order to develop an atomic bomb before Hitler did. “The Atomic City Girls explores love, war and patriotism, forcing the reader to consider the devastating effects of Hiroshima. Once readers learn that Beard’s own aunt was one of the workers, the intimate knowledge and specific details of Oak Ridge come to life even more.” - San Francisco Chronicle. “Fans of historical fiction will devour this complex and human look at the people involved in the creation of the atomic bomb. A fascinating look at an underexplored chapter of American history.” - Stephanie Garber. “Suspenseful and intriguing...explores an aspect of the Manhattan Project long shrouded in secrecy, bringing to light an important chapter of World War II history.” - Jennifer Chiaverini.  Booklist gave it a starred review which read in part, “This is approachable, intelligent, and highly satisfying historical fiction.”  Although I moved to Oak Ridge in January 1944 months before these fictional characters moved there in November the same year, as a toddler, I did not experience Oak Ridge in the way they did, but this story does ring very true to me. I do appreciate that both the photos and the text include people from Oak Ridge’s African-American community whose role is seldom even mentioned as they were forced to live out of view by the rest of the city in “Gamble Valley,” the residential area closest to the potentially dangerous plants and served by only one road almost never traveled by white Oak Ridgers.  The author, Janet Beard, was born and raised in East Tennessee, earned her MFA at The New School, and now resides in Columbus, Ohio.

New York, New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2018. 353 pages with several authentic photos plus 18 more pages of “Insights, Interviews and More.” Trade paperback