The Atomic City Girls

The Atomic City Girls

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women 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....

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Title:The Atomic City Girls
Author:Janet Beard
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Atomic City Girls Reviews

  • Angela M

    3.5 stars rounded up.

    The title of this novel is a misnomer in some ways. It’s not just about the the women who worked for the Manhattan Project, called for purposes of security Clinton Engineering Works, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the 1940’s. It was about men as well, about what the everyday life was like at this place where they live and work on something secretive , a question of national security, they are told. Of course, there are people here who know exactly what is happening here and they

    3.5 stars rounded up.

    The title of this novel is a misnomer in some ways. It’s not just about the the women who worked for the Manhattan Project, called for purposes of security Clinton Engineering Works, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the 1940’s. It was about men as well, about what the everyday life was like at this place where they live and work on something secretive , a question of national security, they are told. Of course, there are people here who know exactly what is happening here and they are instructed that they must not discuss their work with anyone, never say the word “bomb”, but of course, they do.

    The book follows in alternating chapters four people who are employed here and their individual stories as well as how their lives intersect to form the narrative of the story. In 1944, eighteen year old June, brought up on a farm not far from Oak Ridge takes a job there. She is naive and unaware of what her job her job watching dials and adjusting meters really is all about. That is until she begins a relationship with Sam Cantor, a physicist, a Jew, whose relatives in Germany have been impacted by the war in unimaginable ways. Sam was the most interesting character for me, fighting his personal demons and ambivalence over his work, providing the thought provoking questions about the merits of the atom bomb. Joe, a black laborer takes a job here, leaving his wife and three children behind in order to support them. His story and that of the younger Ralph, illustrate the inequities, the racism that black people were subjected to here as well as in the larger society. Cici, June’s roommate is a shallow, self centered girl whose main reason for being there is to look for a man with money, tries to reinvent herself from the sharecropper’s daughter she grew up as. Way too much time was spent on Cici’s dating life . How these four people connect is how we learn about the day to day life in Oak Ridge.

    This has a realistic feel to it with black and white photographs interspersed throughout. I was disappointed that the advance copy I read did not include the listed “P.S. Insights, Interviews & More “ which I had hoped would shed some light on the research process. I assume the final published version of the book will include these. A realistic feel, but I want to know more about how real the depiction is so I’m going to read the non fiction book, with a strikingly almost identical title The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. By the way , the Epilogue is fantastic.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from William Morrow/HarperCollins through Edelweiss.

  • Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    For eighteen-year-old June Walker, the prospect of working at Oak Ridge is a chance to get away from home. She has no idea what she is actually doing at Oak Ridge other than she's helping the war effort. As she starts an affair with a Jewish physicist, Sam Carter, she starts to realize more and more what they are doing there. At the same time, her roommate Cici is trying her hardest to find a rich man and get away from her past life. African- American construction worker Joe Brewer has left his

    For eighteen-year-old June Walker, the prospect of working at Oak Ridge is a chance to get away from home. She has no idea what she is actually doing at Oak Ridge other than she's helping the war effort. As she starts an affair with a Jewish physicist, Sam Carter, she starts to realize more and more what they are doing there. At the same time, her roommate Cici is trying her hardest to find a rich man and get away from her past life. African- American construction worker Joe Brewer has left his family behind since the job at Oak Ridge pays well, but being away from his family is hard for him. All these people have their own dreams and goals, but life isn't always easy and things can change in a moment.

  • Stephanie Anze

    "What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here."

    3.5 stars rounded up

    Eighteen-year-old June Walker begins working in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in a facility called Clinton Engineering Works (CEW). Told only that she is helping the war effort, June is tasked with watching and adjusting a machine as are many more young woman like her. In the evenings, the women and men of the facility socialize in the town and June meets Sam Cantor, one of the scientists behind the project. A

    "What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here."

    3.5 stars rounded up

    Eighteen-year-old June Walker begins working in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in a facility called Clinton Engineering Works (CEW). Told only that she is helping the war effort, June is tasked with watching and adjusting a machine as are many more young woman like her. In the evenings, the women and men of the facility socialize in the town and June meets Sam Cantor, one of the scientists behind the project. As they get to know each other, June learns about the true nature of her job and its hardly a simple task.

    Having seen a mix of ratings for this book, I had a certain hesitation when I started reading myself. While this book was not exactly what I expected, I can honestly say I did enjoy reading it. When June arrives to Oak Ridge, its a fairly new town that does not officially exist. Housing the CEW facility, the only ones that live here are people that work here. June is given a fairly simple job of watching and adjusting a machine but told nothing else. She settles into her new life and one evening meets Sam Cantor. Since everything about Oak Ridge is cloaked in secrecy, having a distraction is more than welcome. But as her relationship with Sam advances, tensions build up. I really liked the atmosphere of the book and the range of characters. The title is somewhat misleading as ths narrative is told by female and male characters. The narrative itself, however, was well done and all those other perspectives really helped give a more complete picture. Beard paints a picture where the characters conflicted states of mind tied in perfectly with the current times. The rising of the tensions on a global scale mirrored the rising of tensions for the various personal relationships in the town and that was felt throughout the narrative.

    As its known now, the Clinton Engineering Works was the Manhattan Project which produced the Atomic Bomb. The machines that the young women at Oak Ridge operated were enriching Uranium that gave the bomb its potency but they did not know that. The Manhattan Project was a collaboration betweeen America, Britian and Canada. About 130,000 people were employed and $2 billion was spent overall. Oak Ridge was created with the sole purpose of making all the elements needed for the bomb but only the higher-ups and scientists knew this. The young women recruited were just told that there were helping in the war effort. I am aware that there is a non-fiction work regarding this subject matter and plan on reading that at a later date. One interesting fact I have learned since reading this book is that radium is created from the decay of the uranium atom (having read 'Radium Girls', this was of particular interest to me). Beard tied the background with the narrative in a smart way.

  • Sherri Thacker

    I really enjoyed this fictional book about how the atomic bomb was made and how secretive the whole thing was. The whole time I read it I felt like I was back in the 40’s and there are little black and white pictures throughout. Beautifully written and I really enjoyed the chapters as well. It’s not my normal genre of books but I’m so glad I read this one.

  • Zoe

    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

    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.

    Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

    All my reviews can be found on my blog at

  • Lauren Hopkins

    Okay. I found what was going on in this book so super interesting from a historical perspective? But from a reader's perspective I was like...how did this get past an agent let alone probably multiple editors and people with brains who read things? It is SO. UNBEARABLY. DULL. It's written about as interestingly as a cookbook from the 40s and since it's ABOUT the 40s I was like "is this intentional?" lol. It reads like the most basic book ever. There's weirdly very little dialogue or even any int

    Okay. I found what was going on in this book so super interesting from a historical perspective? But from a reader's perspective I was like...how did this get past an agent let alone probably multiple editors and people with brains who read things? It is SO. UNBEARABLY. DULL. It's written about as interestingly as a cookbook from the 40s and since it's ABOUT the 40s I was like "is this intentional?" lol. It reads like the most basic book ever. There's weirdly very little dialogue or even any interesting moments between characters, all of whom are terribly bland and one-note. There's an 18-year-old fresh-faced "country girl" who is nothing more than that, there's a hilariously stereotypical Brooklyn Jew scientist who is nothing more than that, there's a hard-working family man who left farm life for the first time to come to work at Oak Ridge, the atomic city outside of Knoxville (he's also nothing more than that), and there's a gold-digging country bumpkin who pretends she's fancy because she wants to marry a rich man who is...nothing more than that.

    So the weak plot is that June moves to Oak Ridge to be one of the "innocent and ignorant" (as she's described multiple times) girls manning the calutrons at this casual uranium plant. She eventually meets one of the scientists, a "dirty Jew" (according to her roommate because #The1940s) scientist from Brooklyn who's 30 and an alcoholic. Sam, the dirty Jew scientist, basically drunkenly assaults June one night and also yells out classified information about how they're building an atomic bomb, and June the dumbass is like "wow...I think I love him!" LITERALLY WHAT. So then they start dating and he's an asshole to her the whole time because he's just so SENSITIVE about this bomb being used to kill tons of people, and she's like nbd, this is normal. The side plot is that her bitch roommate Cici is trash but wants to marry rich so she pretends she's not trash even though everyone else who's not trash knows she's trash, and she ends up being a bitch in the end as well but DON'T WORRY in the epilogue we find out that her marriage ends up being unhappy!!!!! and then the other side plot is JOE the "negro" (again with the 1940s terms) who came up from Alabama to make some money while his family stays at home, though he's kind of pointless aside from one little piece of the "plot" that slightly connects him to June and Sam (I do like that he serves the purpose of informing us about segregated life in Oak Ridge, however). Anyway, something DRAMATIC finally happens with one chapter to go (SPOILER ALERT Cici tells the army that June said the word "bomb" and so the army fires her for clearly knowing every single secret about nuclear weapon production and then Sam's like "well I'm going back to NY, byeeee, have a nice life country farm trash"). That's...it? Like that's this entire book.

    Here's my impression of how the book is written:

    "June Walker is a country girl. One day, when she was 18, she got on a bus to Oak Ridge because she got a job at an exciting new place. It was run by the army, but she didn't know what was happening there! She wore her best dress, but she only owned five dresses. She's from the country! She got to Oak Ridge and moved into a dormitory where she met her roommate Cici, who seemed so cosmopolitan. She wore makeup and liked flirting with boys. June had a boyfriend once, her childhood sweetheart who asked her to marry him before he went to war, but she'd never flirt the way Cici did. She's from the country and Cici is from the big city of Nashville!"

    No joke. It has the literary value of stories I wrote for my teachers in fourth grade. IT'S SO BAD. JUST HOW. Kudos to the author for her Oak Ridge research and explanations because that's the only thing redeeming about this, but it's no great novel. It's touted as "the next Lilac Girls" but Lilac Girls is an actual novel with fleshed out characters and a plot and strong writing. This is more or less a history lesson about Oak Ridge with a poorly written and weak narrative thrown in to make learning history more fun. It's so bad, and there are zero redeeming or even likable characters, though shoutout to Joe for being a good guy from start to finish!!! He loves his family and working hard!

  • Onceinabluemoon

    I am an avid library abuser, last night I was number one for nine new releases, never one who wants to hold up the queue I can't wait to dive into the new stuff, loving historical fiction I grabbed this audio book first, after all I was number 29 in line for the kindle version, why wait! Bright and early I had my ears on and out to the garden I went... hmmm, it wasn't grabbing me, oh give it time, the meat of the story is just around the corner... I looked to see I was at 19% and still I was wai

    I am an avid library abuser, last night I was number one for nine new releases, never one who wants to hold up the queue I can't wait to dive into the new stuff, loving historical fiction I grabbed this audio book first, after all I was number 29 in line for the kindle version, why wait! Bright and early I had my ears on and out to the garden I went... hmmm, it wasn't grabbing me, oh give it time, the meat of the story is just around the corner... I looked to see I was at 19% and still I was waiting. At 60% I returned the audio and washed my hands of it. It felt like nothing but chic lit, I wanted substance, not straw sucking women seeking spouses, I wanted to LEARN. Just not for me, I love non fiction and historical fiction done well, but this was just pure fluff and I found myself angry to be wasting my time on something I didn't like when I have eight more new releases in the wings, something is bound to resonate more to my liking!

  • Sarah

    20/4 - This was only so-so. I think that whoever included the uncaptioned photos made a mistake because in quite a few of them it was unclear what we were looking at (kind of like looking at a now deceased relative's old photos and trying to work out where they were taken and who the people in them are without the relative's input).

    Of the four main characters only one was sympathetic, but even then I didn't really enjoy reading his chapters because he was a black man working in a very white worl

    20/4 - This was only so-so. I think that whoever included the uncaptioned photos made a mistake because in quite a few of them it was unclear what we were looking at (kind of like looking at a now deceased relative's old photos and trying to work out where they were taken and who the people in them are without the relative's input).

    Of the four main characters only one was sympathetic, but even then I didn't really enjoy reading his chapters because he was a black man working in a very white world and his story made me angry and/or depressed. It was a trial of my patience to read Cici's chapters because of her single-minded desire to climb the social ladder because where she came from wasn't good enough and I was very glad when she disappeared for most of the middle and end of the book, but Sam the drunk and June the boring weren't much better. Reading back on what I've written so far you might be wondering why I've given it two stars, instead of one. The writing was fine and there were no editing errors that I could see (high praise that is) and I try to save my one stars for books that hit the trifecta of bad - writing, plot and characters.

    I think I would have been better off reading a non-fiction on this topic, because my favourite part of the book was at the beginning when Beard was going into more detail about Oak Ridge and what work the women were unknowingly doing there. If there isn't a non-fiction book on the topic I think I'll see what trusty Wikipedia has to offer.

  • The Library Lady

    Clearly neither the author nor her editors have read

    , a non-fiction version of the story here that reads like a novel itself.

    If they had, they wouldn't have published this cardboard character filled version of history.

    And if you've already spent time reading this, (and if you haven't, don't waste your time on it), read that one. The true women (and men) of Oak Ridge have an astonishing story to tell, and the aut

    Clearly neither the author nor her editors have read

    , a non-fiction version of the story here that reads like a novel itself.

    If they had, they wouldn't have published this cardboard character filled version of history.

    And if you've already spent time reading this, (and if you haven't, don't waste your time on it), read that one. The true women (and men) of Oak Ridge have an astonishing story to tell, and the author of that book told it beautifully.

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