BOOK REPORT for Glow by Megan E. Bryant

Cover Story: Big (Watch) Face

BFF Charm: Meh and Yay

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

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Talky Talk: First Person/Epistolary Face-Off

Bonus Factor: Radium Girls

Relationship Status: Didn’t Quite Light My Fire Dial

Cover Story: Big (Watch) Face

This cover has not one, not two, but three big faces—if you count the watch face with the glowing dial, of course. I like the concept, but not the execution. Something feels a little off-balance. On the other hand, I have to give it props for effectively conveying what the book is about, even if you’ve never heard of the Radium Girls before.

The Deal:

Julie was supposed to be at college right now—but she gave her mother her entire college savings account to save their house from foreclosure. While everyone is getting ready to decorate their dorms, she’s working two jobs to help her mom scrape by. At least there’s thrifting, which at least presents the possibility of being able to afford to shop.

One day, she finds a pretty painting that her gut tells her she must have. When she gets home and shuts off the lights, an eerie glow finds its way through the oils and reveals a completely different painting underneath. Julie’s instantly obsessed: how did the artist accomplish this? Are there more paintings? She’s got to figure out how it was done. But when the next painting reveals a far creepier glowing message, she finds herself wondering what story the artist is trying to tell…

BFF Charm: Meh and Yay

I could have done without Julie’s entire story, to be honest. She’s akin to the Friday Night Lights character of the same name: a deeply annoying teenager with occasional glimpses of humanity. Her mother sucks, her bestie sucks, her life situation sucks (to which I am sympathetic), and she seems to lack the basic ability to Google. Although she’s the narrator, her story is the least interesting part of the book, and the plot holes didn’t help endear me to her. Sorry girl, you’re not getting my BFF charm anytime soon.

Lydia, on the other hand, is a similarly-aged girl living in 1917 New Jersey. She works at the American Radium Corporation, painting watch dials with this new “miracle” element, and writes letters to her WWI sweetheart. Lydia definitely gets my charm: she’s compassionate to the mysteriously sick, stubbornly pursues justice on her sisters’ behalf, and isn’t afraid to take measures to protect her loved ones.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There’s an incredibly convenient romance for Julie, but like all things regarding her story, it didn’t do anything for me.

Talky Talk: First Person/Epistolary Face-Off

While Julie is the present-day narrator, the story switches between her perspective, and Lydia’s letters to her sweetheart Walter. Lydia’s letters are the best part of the book; she and her sisters are based closely on the stories of real-life Radium Girls. Sometimes a switch between voices, time periods, and narrative style works. In this case, Glow would have been better off focusing on Lydia. Julie’s story only serves to fill in the gaps where Lydia’s letters fail the reader.

Bryant’s writing makes the story fly past in record time. Her love and care detailing the plight of the Radium Girls comes through loud and clear, well before the author’s note (which is worth reading). It’s the sort of book designed to spark a love of history, and I think if I were a teen who’d never heard of the Radium Girls before, it would have done its job nicely.

Bonus Factor: Radium Girls

The Radium Girls, for anyone who didn’t know, were girls in WWI-era North America who painted glowing watch dials. Radium was a newly-discovered radioactive element—but the companies at the time encouraged girls to stick their brushes in their mouths to get a finer tip.

When the girls got sick, it was gruesome. It ate away at their jaws, loosened their teeth, and made them so fragile that dancing could cause their bones to snap. When the companies were confronted with the sick girls, they took the deplorable tack of blaming the ailments on syphilis. For an excellent introduction, this Jezebel article with a non-fiction Radium Girls author will give you an overview of just how horrible this situation was.

Casting Call:

FNL-era Aimee Teegarden as Julie

Relationship Status: Didn’t Quite Light My Fire Dial

Book, I had such high hopes for our date, but in the end, I liked only one of your split personalities. Your glowing paintings and look into the past were eerie, horrific, and tragic—but you inspired me to look elsewhere to get my history nerd needs met.

Glow is available now.

Jennie lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.