Radium Girls

Radium Girls by Kate Moore

I tend to do most of my blogging about books I enjoyed.  This book has me completely confused. I don’t think I really liked it, yet I find myself wanting to talk about it!

The premise – It’s a true story, which makes it even more disturbing. Woman working as dial painters (watch/clock faces, military gauges/control panels) are using paint with this newly discovered element in it, because it glows.  What is it you ask? Radium. (Okay, you probably figured that out by the title) 

These women are blessed to have these well paying jobs.  They are envied because even during their off hours, they have a glow about them.  However, soon they start getting sick, but their symptoms are all different and nobody wants to blame the radium…because as far as anyone knows, radium is good for you.  Even as some dentists and doctors and a few of the women themselves become convinced it’s radium poisoning, it will take a lot more than their opinions to convince the players in this booming business.  How do they convince them that these girl’s lives are worth more than a strong bottom line?

The story is great.  My biggest issue with the book was it’s length. After you remove all the research notes at the back, it’s about 400 pages.  I feel the story could have been told in 200. However, in defense of the book, I feel the book was so long because the story was so long.  Women suffered and died and fought for compensation for years.  

My second issue with the book was simply the gore.  I don’t consider myself an overly sensitive person, but the descriptions of the sores, tumors, missing teeth, puss, infection, jaw bones, etc. was all too much for me.  Again, I understand that these women endured disgusting and gruesome symptoms, but I did not enjoy reading about them over and over.

Many times while reading this book I was tempted to put it down and be done with it. I’m a firm believer that there are too many good books out there to waste time on a book that you don’t enjoy. However, this was a pick for my library’s discussion group.  Therefore I felt obligated to finish it so that I could accurately discuss it, having the whole picture, start to finish.

I was truly happy when I reached the end.  I set it down with a flourish and said to my husband “Oh thank god, I’m done!”  Now you may think I’m writing about the book to warn you away from it, but that is not the case.  While there were aspects I didn’t enjoy, the story was powerful on many levels. Reading the first-hand accounts of women who were sick and died brought about a sense of empathy.  I enjoyed considering the innocence of these young girls and the naivety of the whole world, trusting this new found element is a miracle. I was amazed at the medical communities struggle to identify the issue.  It was eye opening to consider how difficult it is to identify an issue when it’s symptoms are so varied. And of course, the complexity of the judicial system is never a surprise, but always frustrating. Even as people begin to realize the cause, the laws were written in a way that the statute of limitations was well passed. Watching these normally meek mannered women stand up against corporate animals that were only focus on the mighty dollar was uplifting.

Although it had faults, this book was eye opening and thought provoking.  So while it’s length and gore was too much for me, it might be right up your alley!  Maybe you should pick up a copy…from the library, where it’s free…just in case.

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