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2024 Bookish Books Reading Challenge (Hosted by Yours Truly)

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My Progress:

11 / 30 books. 37% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
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My Progress:

23 / 51 states. 45% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

16 / 50 books. 32% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

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43 / 50 books. 86% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

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38 / 52 books. 73% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

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25 / 40 books. 63% done!

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15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

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9 / 25 books. 36% done!

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2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

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6 / 26.2 miles (second lap). 23% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

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22 / 100 books. 22% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

58 / 104 books. 56% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

42 / 52 books. 81% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

60 / 165 books. 36% done!
Thursday, April 28, 2022

Despite Explosive Subject Matter, The Atomic City Girls is a Slow, Lackluster Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After her fiancé is killed in the war, 18-year-old June Walker is at loose ends. Wanting to do her bit to help her country, she joins her older sister in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where a crowd of young women are descending to work at mysterious jobs they're not allowed to talk about. The bustling town—which has suddenly sprung up out of nowhere—is dominated by secrecy and security. Inside its borders, though, Oak Ridge is lively with people bustling in and out of factories, canteens, bowling alleys, movie theaters, and dance halls. June's job as an operator of a big, boring machine is mind-numbingly dull, but her life is more meaningful now than it's ever been. Even though she's not allowed to ask questions about what she's actually doing, she's convinced her role in Oak Ridge—not just as a worker but also as a morale booster for all the young men stationed there—is important.  

Dr. Sam Cantor, a 30-year-old engineer from New York, is charmed by June's country girl naiveté. Sam is one of the few people in Oak Ridge who knows what The Manhattan Project is. As his frowned-upon relationship with the younger woman blooms, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the secrets he's promised to protect from leakng out. 

Cici Roberts, June's bombshell roommate, is disgusted by the growing closeness between June and Sam, even though she spends her every waking hour trying to snag a rich husband for herself. Desperate to pass as a sophisticated socialite instead of what she truly is, Cici will do anything to keep her own secrets hidden.

Joe Brewer knows that he and his fellow Negro workers are not treated the same as their white counterparts in Oak Ridge. Still, he needs his wages to send back to his wife and children in Alabama. That requires working hard and keeping his head down, keeping far away from the trouble that's brewing in the colored quarters.  

When Hiroshima is bombed and the shocking truth about the true purpose of Oak Ridge is revealed, everyone in the secret city will be left to grapple with their own morality in the wake of the horrifying destruction they've helped to bring about. The lives of June, Sam, Cici, and Joe will be forever changed because of it. 

I've never read anything about The Manhattan Project, so I thought The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard would be an interesting read. And it is, at least in the sense that it gives readers an idea of what Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was and what living there must have been like. Enhanced with historical photographs from the the city's heyday, the book's setting definitely comes alive. Beyond that, though, it is...not exciting. The novel has no plot, which makes it an episodic slog that meanders here and there without really going anywhere. Although I like that the author uses different focus characters to show different aspects of life in Oak Ridge, the four Beard has created are either bland or downright unpalatable. June and Joe fall into the first category, with Sam and Cici in the other. June and Joe are both sympathetic and kind, but they're cardboard cutouts with no real personality or depth. Sam is a broody jerk who takes advantage of a vulnerable young woman for his own lustful desires. Cici is a self-centered snob who only cares about tricking a wealthy man into taking care of her. Ugh. I was rooting for June and Joe (even though neither felt at all real to me), but I despised both Sam and Cici. Beard's simplistic, lackluster prose does not help matters, combining with the novel's other problems to make it even less appealing. Considering all this, you may be asking, "So, why on earth did you keep reading The Atomic City Girls?" Honestly, I'm not sure. It fulfilled a few reading challenge prompts and it's a fast, mindless read. In the end, though, I found it almost wholly unsatisfying. It's boring, depressing, and just meh all around. 

(Readalikes: I've heard that The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan is a much better book on the same subject.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

 or possibly R
for language (no F-bombs), violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I bought a copy of The Atomic City Girls with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha. 

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