Wednesday, February 21, 2018

TLC Book Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pub. Date: February 6th, 2018
Pages: 384

Genres: Fiction / Historical Fiction / Biographical Fiction


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.

What Did I Think About the Story?

When I read the synopsis of The Atomic City Girls I knew I wanted to read it as soon as I could get my hands on it! I've read lots of stories that take place before, during, or directly after WWII, from a variety of angles and perspectives, but surprisingly enough I had not read anything that dealt with Oak Ridge, Tennessee or the secretive work done there. It was a whole new world for me to explore and I went into the reading with very high expectations. I'm happy to say that many, if not all, of  my expectations were met and by the last page I felt like I had a brand new understanding and appreciation for the work done at home in support of the horrific fighting happening abroad.

Right from the start I was awed by the well-rounded approach author Janet Beard presented for the reader. Oak Ridge was quite the conglomeration of very different people, from the top scientific minds and trained soldiers to hardworking yet undereducated local women and African American field hands and everything in between. While still separated for the most part by race and class they all nonetheless lived for years within this highly secured fishbowl of hard work and fast play that served to not only shoot the Allies into the lead of atomic warfare but served to foster quite a lot of drama for its inhabitants. They all came to Oak Ridge for a variety of reasons - to escape guilt, to find a wealthy husband, to prove oneself a worthy man even if not fighting across seas, to try and secure a better future for ones family, and much more - and none left without being highly effected by what they experienced there.

My favorite aspect of the novel was the attention given to the actual day to day goings on of the people who lived there. They worked long, odd shifts (work that was done without really knowing why it was being done...all the secrets!) and had a vast variety of goods and entertainment at hand at all hours - a movie theatre, cafeteria, pharmacy and grocery, bowling alley, dance hall, and more. They lived in a variety of housing as well, depending on their rank, marital status, and race, whether that be trailers, dormitories, or traditional houses. The women dressed in their best, brightest dresses whenever possible and men sought to impress in pristine dress or uniforms (most at least). There was even a more dangerous side for those that sought it out, filled with things like gambling and illegal alcohol. It all comes to life in an exciting way and really drives home the unique and exhilarating time and place this would have been.

My only real issue (if it can be called that) with the story was some of the highly unsympathetic characters who I sometimes found a distraction from the more interesting central theme of what was actually happening at Oak Ridge. While I enjoyed both June and Joe as well as the perspectives they brought to the table, I found both Sam and Cici just awful people. Cici is particularly horrid, using anyone and anything in her power to get what she wants and to ensure she is able to put everyone else in their places, way below her. Sam is a practiced complainer and alcoholic who doesn't treat June the way she deserves and seems to be unhappy no matter what he is experiencing. While these two characters serve their purposes in moving along certain aspects of the narrative (in particular Sam), I would have preferred they not be such dislikable characters. These aspects of their personalities didn't add anything to the story for me and served to only irritate me when they showed up on the page. I also have to wonder at the title of the story as it's about so much more than the women who worked at Oak Ridge. Joe and (unfortunately) Sam are as much a part of the overall story as June and Cici, making the title seem like an odd choice to me.

Overall, The Atomic City Girls was a fascinating look at this singular place and time in history. I very much enjoyed learning about what was being done at Oak Ridge and the interesting environment it was for those that worked there. I should also mention that each chapter ends with actual historical photographs from Oak Ridge, which I LOVED. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, particularly that which takes placed during WWII, will enjoy the peek into this insular world not as well known (at least not to me) as other aspects of the war.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I love it! It fits the story perfectly and did as much to draw me to this story as the synopsis.

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for providing me with a free copy of The Atomic City Girls in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine alone. Continue below for more information about the book, the author, and the rest of the tour!


Praise for The Atomic City Girls

“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

Buy the Book

About the Author

Photo by Bradley Cummings

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.

Find out more about Janet at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


TLC Book Tour Schedule

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
Monday, February 19th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
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 LOVE learning about lesser known aspects of history through novels like this - I'm really excited to read this one!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    1. Me too, Heather!! I hope you love it! And thank you for letting me be a part of the tour :)!