Hello, my friends!
As I said earlier this week, I am COMPLETELY BURIED under a pile of reading for the Amelia Bloomer Project committee. At the moment, I’m halfway through Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, which I am LOVING. It’s a great combination of details about the changes in our understanding of the math and science of flight, as well as a chronicle of both integration and segregation within a very specific community, AND some great personal stories, AND it centers the experience of Black women in the sciences. If you’re interested, but not ready to commit time to adult-market nonfiction, be aware that there’s a Young Readers’ Edition as well! (Relatedly: Have you seen the movie yet? Is it wonderful? Everything I’ve seen about it suggests that it is.)
So, of course, I’ve already been poking around, looking for related reading. And while I’ve found a few books that cover some of the same topics and themes, nothing that I’ve found looks like it brings it all together in the same way.
Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars is about the women mathematicians at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Like Hidden Figures, it starts in the 1940s and deals with women entering a male-dominated field, but nothing in the Kirkus review suggests that it deals much (or at all) with race, or what it would be like to enter a mostly male, mostly White field as a Black woman. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reading it because it talks a lot about the advent of computers, and the shifts in HOW people do research.
Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II is about the construction of Oak Ridge, TN, a secret city (!) built as part of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. The majority of the labor force was female, and everything about the project was super-duper secret, to the point where anyone who deviated from the rules was removed, never to return to the site again. Again, we’ve got that combination of women busting into a field previously dominated by men, but again, it looks like it’s a narrative that mostly focuses on White women. Looks like a supremely-interesting story, though, so I’ve added it to my TBR list.
There’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, which explores the 1951 case of Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cells were harvested by her doctors and then sent to labs all over the world to be used for research… all without her consent. It grapples with race—Lacks was Black—it grapples with poverty, and it grapples with politics within the scientific community. This one fits because it deals with race and with gender, but rather than a story about women building bridges and tearing down walls within the scientific community, it’s about a woman being used and abused by that same community. So. It’s on my TBR list, but not for YAY INSPIRATION reasons.
Even more tangentially-related, but no less GET IN MY EYEBALLS, is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, which covers the Great Migration of Black Americans from the South to other parts of the country over the course of WWI up into the 1970s. The author interviewed well over 1,000 interviews as part of her research, and while she focuses on the stories of three specific people, she touches on many, many more. It sounds so excellent and meaty that I didn’t even bother checking it out of the library—I just went ahead and bought a copy so I wouldn’t have to worry about due dates.
Last of all, if you’re looking for something geared a little younger—and a whole lot lighter—there’s Amy Reeder’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which is AWESOME. It’s about 9-year-old Lunella Lafayette, SUPER-GENIUS and INVENTOR, and her friendship with a red T-Rex that has accidentally time-travelled to modern-day Manhattan. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me squee, and I can’t keep it on the library shelf. Volume Two, Cosmic Cooties, just came out this week.
More recommendations welcome, of course! I’ll add them to my list and then start reading post-Midwinter Meeting!
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.