Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner that Shocked a Nation

Deborah Davis


Unknown by many, this is the story of the dinner between President Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington at the White House. The year was 1901 and until then, no black person had sat down and dined in the White House with the President. This was unheard of. The premise was that once you allowed a black man to dine at the table of a white man, least of all a President, the next thing you know the black man will be marrying a white girl. Although segregation was no longer legal in the country, the Black Race knew its place and what was acceptable. After the infamous dinner, the division between the races became more apparent once again, and segregation was legal to the States that chose to segregate.

The book parallels the lives of these two men. It begins with Booker T. growing up in slavery, and Teddy growing up in a wealthy family in NYC. As they get older, it tells of their lives in school, college, then into adulthood.

Booker T. became very successful building a college in Tuskegee. He started out in an abandoned church and through the hard work of his students and himself, built the University brick by brick. Booker T. wrote an autobiography titled, "Up From Slavery", which attracted the attention of donors. One was Andrew Carnegie who donated a library to the college. To attract other donors, Booker T. asked the then Vice President, T.R., to come to the South to meet various people. T.R. thought it was a good idea to establish a political toehold in the South. He also wanted to visit there since his mother was born on a plantation right outside of Montgomery.

Before he was able to go,  President McKinley was shot and later died. T.R. was now the President of the United States. Since he had already established a relationship with Booker T., their friendship, respect, and support continued. Booker T. advised T.R. as to which black politicians and men would make good judges and hold seats in Congress. He told T.R. of the social unjust and lynchings in the South. Together the two men fought to change the practices of the South and to fight for equality. After the dinner, when  T.R. found a very qualified black man for an appointment, Senator Tillman, a white supremest, fought for 3 years against the nomination. 

T.R. was President for two terms. William Taft won the 1908 Presidency backed by T.R.. He was not happy with Taft as he felt Taft was making the party too conservative. T.R. ran again and when he lost the Republican nomination, he ran as a candidate in the National Progressive Party, a party he had founded. Because the two parties separated the vote amongst the Republicans, this allowed Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, to secure the 1912 presidency. Wilson believed that segregation was the solution to the race problems. Applicants were now required to submit photographs for federal jobs. He felt it was for the blacks own good to have separate dining areas, restrooms, and work places. Years of progress were destroyed.

This is another one of those books that we read which we agreed that this is the way to learn history. It is filled with historical facts such as: Scott Joplin and his music, the origin of Jim Crow, naming the White House, the Press Corp Room, the first White House Social Secretary to the First Lady, the disrepair of the White House when T.R. moved in,  the building of the West Wing, the second floor dining room, the term, "keeping up with the Jones", Hail to the Chief as the President enters the room, and then the expression, "Good to the last drop."

A wonderful read.

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt


Theo Decker, 13, and his mother, were on their way to a meeting with Theo's Principal.  Since they had a little extra time, his mother decided to go into the NYC museum to check out an exhibit. While viewing the painting, 'The Goldfinch', Theo becomes enamored with a little girl with red hair. As his mother moves on, he stays behind to be near the girl. In a flash, there is an explosion. Theo awakens to see the destruction and smoke around him. He eyes the elderly man who was holding the red hair girl's hand and goes over to him. The man, Welty, is severely injured. He hands Theo his ring, points out the Goldfinch, and gives him the name to take his belongings. Theo grabs the painting and is able to get out of the building but cannot locate his mother. He heads home amid chaos on the street, but continues in hope that his mother will be home when he gets there. She doesn't arrive after several hours, so he calls a number to report her missing. He soon is informed that she died in the explosion and must now live with his father, grandparents, or a friend. Since his father cannot be located and his grandparents, whom he hardly knows, cannot take him, he moves in with his school friend Andy.  Andy's wealthy family lives on Park Avenue.

Theo remembers later what Welty had told him. It was the name of a business. He looks up the name and finds an address. He sets out to return the ring. He hangs onto the painting as it is now the one thing that connects him to his mother when she was last alive. When Theo arrives at the door, it is an old building downtown with an antique shop attached. Hobie, friend and business partner of Welty's, opens the door. Theo returns the ring and is surprised to discover that Pippa, the girl with the red hair,  is there recuperating from her many surgeries since the accident. Theo returns many times and finds comfort spending time helping Hobie refurbish the antique furniture that comes into his shop.

As summer approaches, Theo's father appears with his girlfriend Xandra, and is told he will be moving to Las Vegas with them. His dad goes into the apartment they once shared and sells, donates, and takes whatever he wants out of the apartment. Theo grabs some clothes and the painting.

While in Vegas, Theo becomes friends with Boris. Boris has lived all around the world traveling with his father. Boris is a mix of Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish descent. He is able to speak in many languages but mostly Ukraine. Boris is left on his own as his father takes off for days at a time for work. When not working, he drinks as does Boris. Boris started drinking when he was ten.Theo's dad also is an alcoholic and an absentee father. He gambles to make his money. Boris influence on Theo is self destructive. Both boys are now drunk or doing other drugs all the time.

After an event,Theo finds his way back to New York City, painting in hand. He begins to settle into a routine with Hobie until Boris shows up with news that shocks Theo. This sends the two of them on a dangerous course leading them across the ocean.

This book won Tartt the Pulitzer in 2013. There has been much controversy as to whether this book should have won.  The one big question our club had, along with many others, was, "Where was the editor?" Tartt gets really bogged down with details. She spends way too much time on an occurrence that lasts pages and only takes place in an evening or a couple of days. This 771 page book could have been cut down by at least 150 pages or so.

Empty Mansions

The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, JR.


This is the story of Huguette Clark, an heiress to a mass fortune, who spent the last twenty years of her life in a hospital room.
Huguette was the daughter of William Andrews Clark. W.A. grew up in a log cabin. When he was in his early twenties, he moved west to Colorado to mine for gold, then onto Montana. He struck it rich in the copper mining industry. He married his first wife and had six children. After her death, he went to France where he met Anna LaChapelle. W.A. was sixty-two and Anna was twenty-three. Records do not prove if they actually were legally married. Anna bore him two daughters, Louise Amelia Andree and Huguette Marcelle.

W.A. returned to the States and had a short stint as U. S. Senator. He moved to New York City and built a mansion that had 121 rooms including five galleries for works of art. He bought walls of gold and had them shipped from France. He filled his galleries with priceless art work. His house on 5th Avenue was among those such as the Rockefeller's and the Vanderbilt's. He also bought a house for his wife Anna and Huguette located in Santa Barbara named Bellesguardo.

After his death, the house on 5th Avenue could not be sold because there wasn't anyone who could afford to buy it. It was eventually torn down. Anna and her daughter moved down the road to 907 5th Avenue and bought the entire floor of an apartment building. The apartment was filled with expensive art and furniture. Huguette had collected dolls and their furniture since she was a small child and continued in her acquisitions. She loved to paint and took lessons from Tade Styka at his studio.

After the death of her mother, Huguette stopped going out. She thought outsiders and even relatives were after her money. She became a recluse and never stepped out to visit. She limited her visitors to just a few close friends. She continued to purchase art, dolls, and had expensive doll houses made to the specs of individual dolls. She gave generously to her friends and their children. Huguette purchase a large home in Connecticut. She never lived there but continued to pay for the upkeep and taxes for over fifty-one years.

It is safe to say that Huguette did not like change. She did not move on in her life. She kept all her properties at a stand still. It was as if time stood still for her. On March 26, 1991, a doctor was called in to see her. She was nearly eighty-five years old. She was suffering from multiple cancers, basil cell carcinomas. She had deep cavities in her face, was missing the lower left part of her lip, and deep ulcers around her right eye. She weighed only seventy-five pounds. She was taken to the Doctors Hospital which was near to a close friend of her's. She had no insurance and paid cash for everything. After she recovered, she insisted on staying in the hospital where she remained for the next twenty years. She was allowed to stay by the hospital because of her money and they hoped in the future she would pay for needs the hospital had. While there, Huguette became very close with one private nurse, Hadassah Peri. Hadassah would be Huguette's nurse for over twenty years and would be at Huguette's beck and call twenty-four-seven. Huguette rewarded Hadassah very generously and Hadassah's family. She paid her millions and bought cars and homes for Hadassah.

When Huguette passed away at the age of one hundred and four, she left an estate worth millions. She not only owed back taxes, but she was still paying all of her employees to keep her houses kept in good condition. There was a huge fight over her estate by her lawyers, Hadassah, and relatives who did not even know her. Not all of her relatives joined the suit but many did.

This is a fascinating and sad story of Huguette Clark and her family. It is also a great book to read of the history of the copper mining era, discovery of what we now call Las Vegas, and other historical discoveries mentioned in the book. 

The Shoemaker's Wife

Adriana Trigiani


It is the early 1900's in the Italian Alps, that Catarina Lazzari finds herself with two sons that she can no longer care for. She has no money and is suffering from severe depression from losing her husband in the mines, back in America. She takes the boys to a nearby convent and leaves her sons for the nuns to raise. Eduardo is the eldest and falls in to step with the Catholic Church and his devotions. Ciro on the other hand does not have much use for religion, but takes pride in his work to clean and help at the church. The nuns are quite taken with the boys, especially Sister Teresa, who in her heart becomes a mother to Ciro. A few years pass. When Ciro discovers that Don Gregario is having inappropriate contact with a young female parishioner, Ciro's girl crush, Don Gregario bans him from the convent. He wants to send him to the work farm, but the nuns make arrangements for him to go Stateside to live with Sister Teresa's uncle in Little Italy, New York City. He will help the uncle in his shoemaker shop. Eduardo leaves with him and travels to Southern Italy to join the priesthood.

Just above the village where the convent is, resides the Ravanelli family. Marco, the father has a horse and carriage business. It is he who transports the Lazzari's to the convent. His eldest daughter, Enza, helps her mother with the house and the care of her brothers and sisters. When death falls to a younger sister, it is Ciro who has to go to their village to help the church dig the grave. This is where he meets Enza for the first time. The Ravenelli's have been renting a house for years hoping to buy it in the future. When the landlord goes back on his word, they are forced to move. Marco and Enza decide to go to the States to earn enough money to send back to Italy so that the family can build their own house. Enza goes to Hoboken, New Jersey and Marco travels to California. Enza is an excellent seamstress and secures a job at a local garment factory. This is where she meets her best friend, Laura. Laura saves Enza from an assault by the boss, so the two decide to head to New York City. It is there that they are hired to work for the Metropolitan Opera House.

Ciro is busy working as a shoemaker. When Luigi, a fellow he met on the boat, returns to Ciro's place of employment, Ciro secures a job for him. The two become quite successful shoemakers.

Enza and Ciro, star-crossed lovers since they were teens, always running into each other, misunderstandings, bad timing, until one day fate happens. This is their love story.

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd


Sarah Grimke was fifth in line of a family of ten children in the year 1803. She was the daughter of a wealthy father who was a judge on the South Carolina Chief Court. He was the owner of a southern plantation with seventeen slaves. Sarah mother's family was sent to Charleston from England to establish the city. She came from the elite of Charleston's families.

When Sarah was four, she witnessed a slave being severely whipped and witnessed the cuts and blood from the lashes. Sarah was horrified and from that moment on was against slavery and the inhumane treatment of the slaves. After this horror, Sarah developed a stutter. This stutter would remain with her off and on throughout her life. It would be exacerbated by stressful situations. On Sarah's eleventh birthday, she was presented with a ten year old slave girl named Hetty Hetty was known as Handful by her mother and other slaves. Upon receiving Hetty as a gift, Sarah immediately rejected her. She didn't believe in slavery and that one person could be given another person. Her mother was embarrassed and beside herself. Sarah was told she need to accept Hetty-Handful as her slave. Sarah didn't require much from Handful. Sarah herself was very independent and strong willed. She loved to read and learn. She loved to sneak into her father's library and to read his law books. Had she been a boy, she would have been allowed to read all of them  and to become a lawyer. But that was not the case for the time. She was expected to learn and become a woman, wife, and socialite.

Sarah taught Handful to read which was against the law. When writing was discovered outside in the mud after a storm, Handful had written her name and erasing it in the mud didn't work, Handful was whipped. Sarah had all her books and library privileges taken away.

Five years later, Sarah's sister, Angelina was born. Sarah begged her mother to let her be Nina's godmother. The mother agreed and Sarah and Nina became very close. Nina called Sarah 'Mother' at times which really angered the real mother when she heard it.

Charlotte, Handful's mother, was an excellent seamstress. She made a particular quilt illustrating her life history from her mother's origins in Africa, to Charlotte's present time on the plantation. Charlotte was very stubborn and took risks just because she wanted to oppose her owners. This led to whippings and other forms of punishments.
Charlotte taught Handful to sew. They both became very valuable to the Missus and Little Missus at the plantation house. Charlotte began sneaking out at night to go into town to sell things that she had made. She was saving her own money for the future. While out, she met a man named Denmark Vesey. Denmark was a free slave and instrumental in planning a revolt in Charleston.

Sarah fled to Pennsylvania to join the Quakers since they also did not believe in slavery. Sarah became very vocal against slavery and also for the equal rights of all women. She wrote pamphlets which were distributed throughout the country. Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired by these writings when she wrote, "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

Nina later joined Sarah and the two became well known in history for their fight against slavery and women equality

The book is written in sections of different spans of time. Each chapter in the time span is written alternatively between Handful and Sarah. The author came across the names Sarah and Angelina Grimke while reading a list of 999 names of women who had made important contributions to history. When she discovered that these two sisters came from the same city she lived in at the time, she began to discover their history. Her thorough and extensive research created this amazing, historical fiction novel. Based on facts of the sisters, her family, and others, along with creative writing of dialogue, Sue Monk Kidd wrote an exceptional novel depicting the lives of slaves at the time and the two women who fought to change it. This is another piece of history many of us do not know.

Someone Knows My Name

Lawrence Hill


It is London, 1802, and Meena, now an old woman, was brought here by a group of abolitionists to tell her story which was why the trade in human beings must be stopped. She is also told to write her story to document her life. She begins to tell her story to a classroom of children. Aminata Diallo was a young girl of ten, when she was captured by slave traders and witnessed her parents murder.

Aminata was born in the village of Bayo, three months by foot from the Grain Coast in West Africa. She spoke two languages, Fula and Bamana, each from the tribes of her parents. The day she was captured, she had been coming home with her mother after delivering a baby in another village. Her mother was a baby catcher and Aminata had always gone with her mother. She could now catch a baby on her own. Aminata was yoked and bound to other slaves as they made their trek through numerous villages and picked up more slaves as they went. She could not understand why, as she walked through these villages, no one would help save her. Another young African boy, Chekura, was freely walking beside them. He was actually working for the slave traders. He looked after Aminata on the trek but told her if he didn't work for them, he would become a slave. This was the only way he could secure his freedom.

The slaves were boarded onto a large slave ship. Many slaves had been waiting on the boat for some time. Aminata knew the minute she was near the boat, that the smell was of death and decay. She saw slaves being murdered and those sickly and dead, were all thrown overboard.The slaves were held in the belly of the ship. At night they would yell their names and the villages where they came from. It was their only way to establish that they were still their own property. When they reached America, they were separated into groups to be auctioned off. Aminata was surprised that she saw slaves that were walking around freely through this town of Charles Town. She was later shocked when she saw her new friend, Chekura, bound and now a slave himself. He had been tricked by the traders.

Aminata was sold to Master Appleby. The slave, Georgia, took Aminata under her care. Time moves on and things happen. Aminata is sold to Solomon Lindo, an indigo inspector for the entire Province of South Carolina. She is taken to New York City to live with him and his wife. This is the beginning of her story where she will find her freedom, work for the British Army during the American Revolution,(by recording the names of the blacks who also worked for the British Army), and to move them forward to freedom. Once recorded and approved, they will board a boat to Nova Scotia where they are promised free land, work, and freedom. She records their information in a book called, "The Book of Negroes". Her travels take her from New York City, to Canada, Sierra Leone, and then to England. Aminata's one goal from the start was to one day return to her native land.

Lawrence Hill has written an amazing novel. He captures the voice of Aminata. All senses are awakened with his descriptions from the beginning in Africa, the trek to the boat, the horrid conditions on the boat, life on the plantation, and then her continued journeys. The fictional book is based on the real Book of Negroes. The story may be fictional but through his research, you will feel the reality of the lives of the slaves. It was quite a coincidence that our book club read, "The Invention of Wings" the month before. And, after that book, the shooting in Charleston happened.
Cannery Row John Steinbeck


In Monterey, California, there is a street lined with canneries. These are used for the sardines brought in by the fishermen. This became known as Cannery Row.

Cannery Row is home to the many people who live and work for the canneries. It is also home to the many businesses that support these people.

This story revolves around the main goal of throwing Doc a thank you party for everything he has done to help the residents of the Row. Doc is a marine biologist who collects sea creatures along the coast then sells them to labs, scientists, and museums. He also becomes known as the smartest man on the Row and listens to whomever needs to talk.

The novel is made of vignettes of each character or groups of characters, and how they all blend in together. You have: Doc the scientist, Mack and the boys who for all their good intentions seem to mess everything up, Dora Flood who is the owner of the Bear Restaurant and Whorehouse and is a savvy businesswomen, Lee Chong who is the owner and operator of the local grocery store, and numerous other characters who weave their way in and out of each others story lines.

Steinbeck based this novel on the actual canneries in Monterey.

"In Monterey, Ed Ricketts' laboratory survives (though it is not yet open to the public) and at the corner which Steinbeck describes in Cannery Row, also the store which once belonged to Lee Chong, and the adjacent vacant lot frequented by the hobos of Cannery Row. The site of the Hovden Sardine Cannery next to Doc's laboratory is now occupied by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, the street that Steinbeck described as "Cannery Row" in the novel, once named Ocean View Avenue, was renamed Cannery Row in honor of the novel, in 1958. The town of Monterey has commemorated Steinbeck's work with an avenue of flags depicting characters from Cannery Row, historical plaques, and sculptured busts depicting Steinbeck and Ricketts.[18]".

Steinbeck later wrote the novel, "Sweet Tuesday", which continues with the characters of Cannery Row years later.

Go Set A Watchman Harper Lee


Jean Louise Finch, twenty five, has been living in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb Junction, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus Finch, who is now elderly and suffering from arthritis. He is having a hard time getting around and doing things for himself. He moved in with his sister Alexander who still lives in the house that she and Atticus grew up in. Atticus has his own law firm and has always been known as a very fair lawyer. Jean Louise, known as Scout to her family and childhood friends, is being persuaded by her Aunt to return to Maycomb permanently to help and continue her life there. Her childhood friend and now boyfriend, Henry, lives in Maycomb as well. He is a lawyer in Atticus's law firm.

Within just a few days, Jean Louise notices nothing ever changes in Maycomb. She goes on a date with Henry and they are spotted swimming in the river together. The next day at church, the gossip is already spreading that they were skinning dipping and the disgrace she must be to the family, especially Alexander.

Aunt Alexander hosts a tea for the women in town to say hello to Jean Louise. Jean Louise realizes from the conversations between the women, that all they have to talk about is themselves, their family, gossip, and the black race. Jean Louise having lived in New York for five years, is now used to seeing black people everywhere and treated more or less as equals. But the South is still the South, and the Negro race is still considered to be less equal to the White race in every way possible.

In the Finch house, they had a black maid and workers.They were never treated badly, unfairly, or disrespectful. Jean Louise's mother died when she was two so she never knew her. She and her brother Jem, who passed away when he was in his twenties,(it is never explained how he died), were raised by their father and their maid, Calpurnia. Calpurnia was the closest thing to a mother Jean Louise knew.

After the tea, Jean Louise was to visit her Uncle but heard of meeting at the Court House that both her father and Henry were attending. She slips into the Court House and up to the balcony where she use to go to watch her father argue his cases. She is shocked to hear a visiting speaker talk about the Negro Race as being one of less than human and how they needed to make sure they were kept separate from the Whites no matter what the law said. The fact that Atticus and Henry were there as part of the group horrified her. She then lost all respect she ever had for both of them.

Scout grew up with a father who could do no wrong. He always treated her, along with the people in town, fairly and just. Seeing another side of her father, one she did not know, threw her whole present and past in a tail spin. She didn't know which father was the real one, so to speak. It was time for her to grow up and figure out how to put the father of her past memory into the father that she sees before her now.

Harper Lee wrote this book in the 1950's. On the advice of her editor, this was not the time to publish this book. It was too relevant for the time period and could cause a backlash resulting in low sales and ratings. She suggested that Harper Lee write a book with her characters being younger. Hence, we have, "To Kill A Mockingbird". We all agreed it was the best advice she could get and indeed take.

All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr


A gemstone has come from Japan to be displayed in The Museum of Natural History in Paris. It is named the Sea of Flames. Rumor has it that whoever possesses it, cannot die yet those around them, will die within a month. The stone brings sorrow to anyone who carries it. Now the museum is trying to decide whether to display it or not.

It is 1934 and Marie-Laure LeBlanc is four years old. She first hears this story from a guard at the museum where her father works. He is the locksmith of the museum and holds every key and knows where each key goes. One month after hearing this story, Marie-Laure is blind. They say it is due to congenital cataracts.

Werner Pfennig, seven, and his sister Jutta, six, are being raised at Children's House, an orphanage in Zollverein, Germany, It is three hundred miles northeast of Paris. Their mother died in childbirth and their father died in the coal mines. Werner is a very inquisitive boy. When he turns eight, he finds a wire-wrapped cylinder in the refuse. Three frayed electrical leads sprout from the top and one has a small earphone dangling from the end. He realizes it is a radio. He takes it back to his room in the attic and fixes it. He hooks it up to discover a station with music. He then hears a man speaking in French, talking about science and how light affects different things. "How does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?". This begins Werner's love of radios. He will become the one requested to fix everyone"s radio in the town, eventually keeping him out of the mines and into the Hitler Youth Camp.There he will learn how to not only fix radios, but listen and track other radio transmitters.

A few years later, when the war heads towards Paris, the museum packs and sends away its prize possessions. Marie-Laure and her father leave town to stay at a friend's relative only to find they have abandoned their home. They then decide to go to Saint-Milo to the home of his Uncle Etienne. His uncle lives in the family home where he grew up with Marie-Laure's grandfather. They were brothers. Marie-Laure's father builds her a mini city of the little wooden house to teach Marie-Laure how to get around the city by herself. He takes her out into the street with her cane to teach her by counting, smells, and sounds from the street to get her bearings and memorize where she is. Along with the construction of the city, her father also builds her little boxes that will contain gifts when it is her birthday. The box is a puzzle, which she has to learn how to open in order to get to her gift.

As both children grow older, they are about four years apart, their lives are each affected by the war in their own countries. There will come a day when they lives will converge.

The story begins on August 7, 1944. The chapters take turn with Marie-Laure's life and Werner's. It then goes back to 1934, and proceeds from there and at times jumps back to 1944. It can be confusing at times if you are not noting the time period at the beginning of each new section.

There are many stories woven throughout the book about the war. The use of radios, other than by the German Army, was forbidden. But those who had them, used them to send coded messages to others to pass around. The plight of the German and French citizens were dangerous for both. Then there is the story of the Sea of Flames and how that fit in throughout the entire story. There are different characters in each story line, Werner and Marie-Laure's, that have an affect on each.

The book is beautifully written. The theme of light is carried through the story in various ways. All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015Pulitzer Prize.

The Girls of Atomic City
The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
Denise Kiernan


In 1934, a brilliant German geochemist named Ida Noddack, read and disagreed with Italian physicist Enrico Fermi's paper on elements of an atomic number higher than 92. It was later referred to as "Tubealloy" by the Project. Ida had devised her own periodic table in 1925 and discovered element 75, rhenium, named after her homeland, the Rhine Valley. She felt that Fermi's results were inconclusive and came up with her own theory and published her own paper.  She was dismissed by all. Later, Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist who escaped Nazi Germany, was part of a team that discovered fission.

In 1942. the Corp of Engineers, went into Tennessee near the Black Oak Ridge and acquired, evicted, many farms as a declaration of War. The land was to be used as a site for "The Project". This would be a top secret city which would house the factories and the employees along with their families to create the atomic bomb. Their sister city would be located in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The city would house the army, scientists, and the many workers needed to work in the plants. Free bus service was provided for those who lived off site.The city was named Oak Ridge.

Women were recruited right out of high school and college. The pay was better than other jobs available and housing was affordable at low rents. The recruiters looked for rural women and those right out of high school because they felt these women would do their jobs without questions and they would not be curious. There was a shortage of labor as many men were fighting the war and women were eager to work and look for a new adventure away from their own hometown. The only thing the women knew was that they were not allowed to tell their family what they were doing. Secrecy was number one, even among each other. No worker could tell another worker what they were working on. In fact, they only knew how to do their job but not what it was for. If word got out that someone talked about what they were doing or asked questions, they were immediately dismissed.

The jobs ranged from sitting for hours watching gauges, looking for leaks along pipes, secretaries, switchboard operators, and teachers.The women lived in dorms and apartments. Families lived in small trailers and houses.

This is the South and it is life in the 1940's. Blacks were treated very differently there. They were not allowed to bring their children and husband and wives could not live together. They lived in huts because "that was what they were use to".

Oak Ridge was just like any other city. It had stores, dance halls, tennis and basketball courts, churches, and movie theaters. However, Blacks were segregated form these facilities.They had their own Negro Village.

At times, workers were exposed with radiation and had to be hosed down and kept overnight. When the men had to stay overnight, their wives did not know why or even what they did.

As it came closer to the dropping of the bomb, the scientists warned the government of the danger this would cause to the people being bombed. They voiced their concerns to Washington, but they were never delivered. In August of  1945, the bomb was dropped. The workers were now told what they had been working on. They were told that it was because of their hard work and sacrifice, the war had been won.

The author interviewed a few of the remaining women alive for this book. It is through their stories and in depth research by the author that this story is being told. Although the title refers to the girls of Atomic City, it is a science lesson in the creation of uranium for the bomb and all those involved in "The Project". An interesting note at the end of the book is that in early 1946, Lise Meitner was honored as The Woman of the Year and met President Truman. It is reported that he said to her, "So you're the little lady who got us into this:". However, on December 10, 1946, the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics would go to Wolfgang Pauli and that Otto Hahn had been awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of fission. Many were shocked that Lise was excluded and she was listed as Hahn's junior associate.

Learning to Swim Sara J. Henry


Troy Chance is heading in one direction on a ferry across Lake Champlain. She sees a child falling overboard on the ferry across from her going in the opposite direction. She dives in after him and discovers that the arms of his sweater are tied around him so he can not get it off. She grabs him and swims miles to shore. After she pulls him out of the water, she discovers that he only speaks French. Worried that something or someone has deliberately thrown him over, she takes him home. She does not go to the police station as she has worked in the foster care program before. She worries that if this is a parental issue, the boy could be returned to the parent and in danger again.

Troy takes him to her house where she rents rooms to a couple of young guys. She takes the boy upstairs to her room, bathes and feeds him, and lets him sleep in her bed. The boy tells her in french that he had been kidnapped, his mother had been shot, and his father didn't want him. He tells Troy his name is Paul Dumond. Troy searches on the internet and finds that his father is a business owner. She pays the father a visit to see how he will react when she reveals that his son is still alive. He's devastated and goes to Troy's home to see for herself. He tells the story of the kidnapping to Troy and then they contact the police.

From there, the story unfolds as Troy and and Paul return with Mr. Phillipe Dumond to his new house. Troy takes it upon herself to investigate Paul's mother and to find the kidnappers herself. The police are questioning her involvement in the kidnapping and everyone is suspect including her and Phillipe. 

Saying much more would give the story away. Troy's actions are questionable at times. It is a typical mystery of a whodunit and in the end the killer and kidnappers are discovered. It is an easy, simplistic read. It is not a thriller, sit on the edge of your seat, and keeping you up late murder mystery. However, if you want a quick lite mystery book, this works. This is Sara J. Henry's first novel. She has now written another based on Troy Chance.