I'm not sure if these two books really weren't great or if I'm just suffering from fatigue because all my library books seem to have come in at once...
Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade
I ordered this book because I had enjoyed Bachelor Girl by the same author. While there were many similarities, I didn't like this one quite as much. This book is also set in the New York area and is based on historical facts. Like in the other book there is also a focus on "working women" ahead of their time and gay people who are forced to hide their true selves (here it was women rather than men).
When the book begins Rachel Rabinowitz is a 4 year old "handful" living in the Lower East Side with her parents and older brother Sam. Tragedy befalls the family and Sam and Rachel are put into an orphanage. Because she is younger she must go to the Jewish Infants House. There she has the misfortune of connecting with Dr. Mildred Solomon who conducts experiments using radiation on Rachel and some of the other children.
Years later Rachel is working as a nurse in a Jewish seniors home and Dr. Solomon, who is dying of cancer, is tasked with caring for her. This causes long repressed memories to resurface - and pushes Rachel to research exactly what happened to her as a child.
The book then goes back and forth as we slowly learn about Rachel's time in the Infants House, her eventual move to the orphanage for older children where she is reunited with Sam, her unsuccessful attempt to reconnect with her father as well as some more fortunate breaks along the way which lead to her becoming a nurse. We also gain insight into her relationship with another woman whose identity is kept a surprise for most of the book (though it wasn't that hard to figure it out).
While the story was reasonably interesting, it wasn't fantastic. If you like historical fiction set in New York, or have an interest in early medical research, you might quite like this book.
The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
This is another historical fiction - it gives us a behind the scenes glimpse at some of the people involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II. June Walker, an 18 year old girl from a small town in Tennessee is being bused to a job in a city that doesn't officially exist, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She is somewhat aware of the project as her drunken grandfather was evicted from his farm in order to make room for the development - but she has no idea of the scope of it until she follows her sister to get a job.
After passing extensive security reviews June is given a job like hundreds of other girls - watching certain dials and making sure the needle stays at the right place. None of the girls know that they are essentially operating a small piece of a spectrometer being used to try to enrich uranium for the nuclear bomb.
In addition to June we meet Sam Cantor, a Jewish physicist originally from New York and now a professor at Berkeley who was brought into consult on the project. He knows all too well what is going on at Oak Ridge, and against security protocols, shares some of this information with June when they begin an affair. Sam has grave doubts about what is being done.
We also meet June's roommate Cici who is there to find a rich husband and escape her sharecropper routes. And she doesn't care who she destroys in the process - eventually even turning against June.
Finally we are introduced to Joe, an African American construction worker who is there to try to earn more money to support his family back in Alabama. Through Joe we see how segregation and discrimination are alive and well despite the enormous contributions of the African Americans.
With the eventual bombing of Hiroshima everyone in Oak Ridge learns what they've been doing - and react to it in all kinds of ways.
The book was an interesting look at history though not fantastic. I did enjoy the chapters at the end which briefly summarize where everyone ended up years later.