In the 1940s, Americans—many of them with no idea what they're doing—work together to create an atomic bomb.
June Walker is just 18 when she moves to Oak Ridge, a town situated within a restricted military area, to work at her first job. Along with many other young women, she's instructed to watch the meters and adjust the dials in front of her—she gets no other information about what she is doing. Surrounded by signs with slogans like “What you do here, what you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here,” the women are ordered to avoid telling their friends and family anything about Oak Ridge. Most of the women June works alongside are able to easily avoid worrying about the true purpose of their work, content to distract themselves with flirting and nightly dances. But not everyone at Oak Ridge is in the dark about the weapon they’re building; Sam Cantor, a Jewish scientist, knows that the workers of Oak Ridge are rushing to create an atomic bomb that will hopefully end the war. When he and June begin a romance and he tells June what she’s working on, she must deal with the knowledge that she’s creating a devastating weapon. Although June’s and Sam’s voices are most prominent, Beard (Beneath the Pines, 2008) also explores two more points of view: those of Cici, June’s social striver roommate, and Joe, an African-American construction worker who faces segregation and poor living conditions. The characters, especially June, are well-drawn and sympathetic. Numerous real photos of Oak Ridge are included, which add visual interest to an already compelling story. 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.