The Radium Girls: The Scary but True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the Dark

Sourcebooks Explore. Sept. 2020. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781728210346; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781728209470.
Gr 7 Up–This dense, meticulously researched book covers the courageous determination of young women who unknowingly poisoned themselves while doing their job. In 1917, the same year the United States entered World War I, dozens of young women, many of them teenagers from working-class families, took up positions at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Newark, NJ. They painted watch dials with glow-in-the-dark paint made with radium. This element was still relatively new, and scientists were unaware of how dangerous it was. Moore offers a heartbreaking account of the pain and suffering many of the “radium girls” experienced. Doctors were mystified at their condition, and their employers refused to take responsibility, even discrediting the characters of the girls involved. Moore also explores the story of the women who worked at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, IL. Court cases dragged on for years, plagued by bureaucracy and the powerful corporations’ determination to cover up any responsibility they had in the girls’ illness. The author does a great job balancing the many court proceedings, reports, and individual profiles of those involved with compelling personal stories of the brave women who suffered the most. The size and depth of the text make this a suitable title for astute older readers.
VERDICT An impeccably written but arguably unnecessary young readers’ edition of an excellent work of history.

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