The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: They Paid with Their Lives. The Final Fight Was for Justice. - Kate Moore

[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]

This book was fairly difficult for me to read. Fascinating, but difficult, because of its theme (and I must say immediately, this is entirely personal): on the one hand, it was really interesting; on the other hand, having teeth/jaw problems myself, reading some of the symptoms the girls manifested triggered my own fears (even though, obviously, my own problems are totally minor compared to theirs!). And that was before the book got to the cancer parts. It made up for very strange reading sessions, where I'd pick up my Kindle, read a couple of pages, leave it, go back to it 2 minutes later because I still wanted to know what would follow, rinse and repeat. Very weird—but, as I mentioned, and to be fair, entirely personal.

One may wonder why I picked this book, knowing my fears about part of its themes—obviously I should've expected the latter. This said, having previously read a couple of articles about the Radium Girls, I simply wanted to know more: about when exactly it happened, over how many years, how they finally got justice, more details about the hurdles, and so on. And in that regard, the book definitely doesn't disappoint. Or perhaps it will an actual historian of that period and of that specific theme, but let's be honest, I doubt the audience for such works is entirely made up of professional researchers anyway. So there's much to learn in these pages about the Radium Girls, and it provides much more than a mere introduction to the topic.

The writing style was one of the things that made the book interesting to read, by humanising the accounts of what happened to the Radium Girls: I doubt a dry, clinical style would have worked here, all the more because there were quite a few pages dedicated to describing symptoms of radium poisoning and court sessions. You can feel that the author was genuinely passionate about her topic, also in a more literary way, and wanted to show the women involved as real people, with their lives, husbands, families, and (quashed) hopes for the future, and not just as examples of the consequences of radium poisoning. This is even more poignant because it happened in the Roaring Twenties, with the glamour and glitz I think they project in many people's minds: the girls appeared at first as so young, in love with life and dancing and going out, and it was so easy to picture them as happy-go-lucky flappers who never deserved such a fate (not that anyone deserves it, mind you).

This gave a humane dimension to what could otherwise have been a bit boring to read, I suppose—and provided for reading sections, instead of huge info-dumps. On the downside, I found this style sometimes cheesy; it worked in some chapters/paragraphs, it didn't in others, when it felt like the author was "laying it a bit too thick", so to speak. But that's a minor complain on my part.

Also, since I got the ebook version for review, I didn't get to see the picture that are inserted in the printed book . Too bad for me.

Conclusion: 4 stars. If you're like me, this may trigger a few fears, yet the book and the light it sheds on a not-so-well-known part of US history made it all worth it.