Author: Megan E. Bryant
Genre: Historical, YA
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Books based on true stories are always a bit intense. When you're no longer creating every detail and the events or type of events that happen are based on real people then the suffering, pains and emotions felt by the characters in the story are more difficult to take.
I found Glow to be a very well written story about the 'Radium Girls', as they have been dubbed. These are girls that worked during WWII in a factory setting painting numbers onto watches with radium paint. They were encouraged to 'tip' their tiny brushes with their lips or teeth in order to waste as little paint as possible. This resulted in them being exposed to, and ingesting, high concentrations of radium. Radium is of course radioactive and deadly to humans.
Even before reading the bibliography and historical notes provided by Megan E. Bryant at the end of the book, it was clear to me that a lot of research had been done into the events, details and lives of the Radium Girls. A quick perusal on Wikipedia will confirm many of the events that happen in Glow are based on true stories. While our characters are fictional and the exact progression of who and when certain key events happen; the actual events themselves (ie: teeth falling out, broken bones, doctors visits, protective equipment to workers in the factory except the women, etc.) our lead girls experience are all based on true fact.
A common layout for historical books these days is to have two timelines. The one in which we experience the past (often in letters like used in Glow, or journal entries) and the 'current day' situation; in which we follow a character that is discovering the past for one reason or another. This format for storing telling works very well and Bryant uses it to her advantage to connect us, as the reader, to her current day character and subsequently back to our Radium Girls. While the focus is on the ultimate sacrifice and injustice done to the Radium Girls there is also a progression of discovering the truth, or allowing yourself to 'see' the truth in our current day story. The entire book as a whole is about ensuring you see the real truth and are not blinded by what you hope or wish to be reality. It's especially poignant to note that turning a blind eye to obvious truths, in the case of the Radium Girls, can kill you.
It's Not Pretty...
This is not a YA book to be handed to a young girl lightly. It is quite horrifying what these women were subject to. The way they were treated, dismissed and intentionally (by all accounts) poisoned. I would say if you wouldn't be comfortable giving a potential reader Night by Elie Wiesel, then I would also withhold Glow. While Night is far more horrific based how humans are treated (and certainly that there are so many humans affected), I could see Glow being just as upsetting to a young teen.
I think everything is different when you know it's based on true fact. There are descriptions of oozing, festering wounds, teeth and jaw lose or removal, and overall ailing sickness from radiation poisoning that could be disturbing to some. For me, even more horrifying than the illness, is that the men involved in the factory, the doctors that advise the women, and anyone 'in the know' (including the scientists that worked with the radium on the second level of the factory) all allowed these women to be subject to radium's radioactive properties knowing it would make them sick and eventually prematurely kill them. The management and scientists would wear protective gear, and when the women asked about it they were told it wasn't of concern for what they were doing. This revelation of the despicable actions of those involved in killing these women is easily the most disturbing part for me. At points I felt ill to my stomach thinking of these girls being subject to such toxic conditions; especially when they are berated for not 'tipping' their brushes which resulted in them ingesting the deadly paint.
This Book Deserves More Attention!
Given the historical story told here and it's eventual impact on today's labour laws, working condition requirements and perhaps even women's right or respect in the workplace; I am disappointed that Glow has such a small readership base to date.
I think everyone over 18 (at minimum) should read this book. It's a quick, concise read and is a good reminder that we need to continue to be vigilant with regulations, safety procedures and working condition restrictions every day. It's too easy to be told 'don't worry about it' or 'you'll be fine' or be shamed into silence. Glow is a sad but important reminder to us that, not that long ago in civilized society, people were willing to sacrifice others for the almighty dollar. War times or not there is never a good reason to put someone at risk in order to save a few dollars.
I encourage everyone to read Glow and reflect on the sacrifice the Radium Girls ultimately made in order for us to have a safer society today. There is much to be learned from the story of these girls. Certainly the most important is that we must always ensure we are looking out for ourselves when it comes to workplace conditions and safety. Your life or well being is not worth the money offered. The Radium Girls learned that much too late and it would be (and is) a tragedy for history to repeat itself anywhere in today's world in such a way as it did for these women. Let us advocate, learn and remain vigilant about safety as a way to commemorate and honour the Radium Girls for their sacrifice.
Your first step towards appreciating and honouring these women can be to read Bryant's Glow.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.