“The Atomic City Girls” (William Morrow), by Janet Beard
Eager to escape life in the country, June Walker begins work at a top secret government community in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II. She sits at a machine 12 hours a day, having no clue what she’s helping to create. When author Janet Beard introduces her high-ranking love interest, June is shocked to learn that she’s one of “The Atomic City Girls.”
Hundreds of people work day and night to make sure the Oak Ridge facilities run like clockwork. Twenty-four-hour cafeterias, movie theaters and recreation halls help pass the time in the secret community, but thanks to strict security rules, employees are forbidden to speak about their daily tasks. Although they’re not on the front lines, the government assures them they are an integral part of World War II.
Sam Cantor is a Jewish physicist from New York, one of the few who knows exactly what’s going on in Oak Ridge. June finds his nervous demeanor endearing and it isn’t long before the two begin a long-term romance. After a night of dancing and drinking, Sam lets it slip that the entire community has been recruited to help win the war by building the atomic bomb.
June is fascinated and wants to learn more details, but Sam’s job could be at stake if anyone found out. June confesses that she’s impressed with the potential to “win” the war, but when Sam explains what an atomic bomb is capable of doing, June’s attitude changes.
Joe Brewer is a black construction worker who made his way to Oak Ridge for one of the well-paying jobs. Equally oblivious to his surroundings, Joe wants to do nothing more than to stay out of trouble and do a good job. Unfortunately, a breach in security forces him to be directly placed in the middle of the spotlight with June.
“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.