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When perusing the library’s new book offerings, Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls shone from the shelf. Particularly, the subtitle—The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. Intrigued and unfamiliar with these shining women and their dark story, I trusted Moore to shed light on the matter. She begins by introducing us to a list of key characters, including the dial-painters (i.e. the “radium girls”), corporations, doctors, and investigators involved, and she ends with an impressive bibliography, illuminating her skillful, thorough research of the women’s decades-long struggle for justice.

Discovered in 1898 by Pierre and Marie Curie, radium is a chemical element that, not long after its discovery, was used in readily available medicines and for other common, commercial purposes. One such purpose was luminous watch-dials and instruments, which were in high demand during both World Wars. Despite radium’s increasingly apparent toxicity, which was not known to the public, corporations continued to hire young women as dial-painters in their factories or, as they were referred to, their ‘studios.’

Working as a dial-painter was an enviable position. The work was considered higher up than that of other factory jobs and, for that day and age, it paid very well. Plus, the women employed were captivated by the radium, which they regarded as a glamorous “wonder element.” From as young as 14 years old, girls and women painted watch-dials with a paint containing radium powder, which they mixed themselves without precaution. To be clear, they were told by their employers that radium was perfectly safe, that it was not necessary to use precaution.

Dust from the radium powder settled on everything, including the women—their clothes, their hair, their skin. Also, their lips, as they were taught the technique of lip-pointing when instructed how to paint watch dials. This technique became known as the “lip, dip, and paint” routine. They made a point of the brush by touching it to their lips, dipped it in the radium, and painted the dials. Over and again, all day long. It didn’t take too long for the women to start glowing at night. Literally. Onlookers were impressed, including the women themselves, and thought their radium-girl glow glamorous. And it was. That is, until it wasn’t.

Many dial-painters started experiencing health issues, such as headaches, sore or falling-out teeth, crumbling jaws, growths and tumors, and other serious symptoms. Mystified, the doctors from whom they sought treatment often did not know what to do, as they had never seen such symptoms. Too often, either the wrong treatment was administered or nothing at all. As the women and their doctors pieced the puzzle together, eventually realizing their ailments were related to working with radium, they confronted the companies for which the women worked. In the spirit of corporate greed, the companies denied exposure to radium as the cause and maintained that it was safe to work with.

Although the companies were denying the ill-effects of radium, they made half-hearted (at best) efforts to improve work environments, no longer allowing the women to lunch on the same table where they painted watch dials and providing water for the women to dip their brushes into. They also periodically brought in doctors to run tests and monitor the women’s health. However, the results were not shared, not even with the women. Sadly, some women were ensured of their health by employers only to find out later they had been in declining health all along. In addition to their claims being dismissed by their employers, the ill-fated radium girls were sometimes criticized in their communities, as others saw their actions as a jeopardy to much-needed jobs within the community.

Eventually, the radium girls’ claims were taken seriously. Rather seriously enough, I should say, though it was much too late. Admittedly, this was a challenging title to write about. What happened to these women and the impact it had on their families and their friends is, to say the least, appalling and infuriating. Although the radium girls and their advocates sought justice, it’s impossible to justify such injustice. Yet I commend them for their efforts, as I commend Kate Moore for narrating their story. Be sure to check it out.

 

 

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Aza Holmes is a little bit insufferable, but don’t we all have quirks that are frustrating to the people we love most?

JOHN GREEN’S newest protagonist, a 17-year-old self-proclaimed obsessive depressive, is just as complex as you or I. In his latest best-selling young adult novel, “TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN,” Green introduces the reader to Aza as she embarks upon her senior year.

She and her best friend, Daisy, discover a missing person ad for her childhood friend’s very wealthy father. In an attempt to raise funds for college and financial stability thanks to a $100,000 reward, Daisy — with the help of a reluctant Aza — launches a search.

As part of their search efforts, Aza stumbles into a new but familiar friendship with her childhood friend and missing father’s son, Davis. After years of suffering with spiraling and debilitating thoughts related to her OCD, depression and anxiety, Aza finally finds some comfort in the equally intrusive and depressive Davis. But will their relationship be loud enough to quiet the obsessive thoughts roaring in her brain?

Aza’s story is multilayered, and the novel cannot be written off as either a teenage romance novel or an unrealistic detective novel in the vein of “Paper Towns,” another John Green best-seller. The missing persons case threads the various pieces of the novel together, but this is a character-driven novel through and through.

Additionally, Green has been wrongly criticized as a creator of the manic-pixie-dream girl trope, but Aza is not that at all. Green’s story is one of a young woman learning to navigate relationships (both romantic and platonic), expectations and reality with a deafening mental illness roaring between her ears. Like any human being, particularly a malleable teenager, Aza often fails spectacularly. She pushes away people she loves and misses important pieces of other people’s stories.

Green excels in his craft here. The compelling and page-turning novel is based on Green’s own experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is likely why Aza feels so authentic. However, not everyone suffering from a mental illness is skilled enough to describe their thoughts and feelings with such precision and originality. When Aza falls into a self-described “thought spiral,” it feels as emotionally intense as the real thing.

Rest assured, this novel is not all doom and gloom; rather, Green’s latest might be described as realistically hopeful. Overall, I contend that “Turtles All the Way Down” is Green’s most perfect novel yet.

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Not long ago, a friend of mine recommended a great little read, based upon some of my scholastic interests and previous work experience. I don’t read every book that is recommended to me, but I must admit, I’m glad I read this one. The end result was a captivating read that beckoned me to embark on a journey that truly is a literary rarity—one full of deep introspection and serious contemplation. Father Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart is, in a sense, the measure of a man’s life work. Throughout the pages, readers discover the retelling of nearly thirty years’ worth of life and ministry. Boyle’s writings bring to life a certain reality that many in our culture are either unaware of, desensitized to, or just not interested in.

After his ordination in 1984, Boyle began ministering to underprivileged villages of South America—Bolivia, to be exact. Here, Boyle discovered what he would eventually label his “life’s purpose.” Gregory Boyle fell in love with poor people. That phrase looks odd at first glance; thus, I’ll showcase his intended meaning through a bit of his own words. In speaking about the transition from being placed in a fairly cushy first assignment after ordination to where he would eventually land—the gang-infested populations of the Pico Gardens and Aliso Village public-housing projects of Los Angeles, California—Boyle states, “Originally, I was scheduled to go to Santa Clara University to run their student service program, but Bolivia changed all that. I can’t explain how the poor in Bolivia evangelized me during that year of 1984-85, but they turned me inside out, and from that moment forward, I only wanted to walk with them.”

 So, that is exactly what Boyle did. As mentioned above, he was assigned to a small congregation, by which he had previously served in an associate’s capacity, nestled in the heart of Los Angeles, California’s “gang capital”—Delores Mission. After a somewhat organic growth, the mission soon became a haven for gang members. At first, Boyle made it his mission to create an atmosphere of peace among rival gangs by fostering treaties and formal resignations of violence toward one another. Looking back upon these labors, “G” (as his congregants affectionately call him), suggests that his naivety allowed him to miss the mark here. Over time, he began to see that these efforts fueled the flames of gang activity, rather than extinguish them. So, Boyle changed tactics by becoming the founder and director of Homeboy Industries—a place committed to providing jobs for former gang members, thus giving them an entry point into not only a normative state of society, but also a healthy way of life. Father Boyle established Delores Mission and Homeboy Industries as a safe place for young men and women to find shelter amidst a lifelong struggle of violence and neglect, thus giving reprieve coupled with tools and resources that would lead to betterment.

 Tattoos on the Heart is one Jesuit’s story of partnering with marginalized members of society. In the pages of this book, one will discover a man’s journey that not only brought hope and restoration to the lost he was working on behalf of, but that also brought healing and betterment to his own life. His work was reciprocal. The stories in this book are dynamic and variable. Some may induce fits of laughter. Some may produce strong emotions, the types that are often accompanied with tears. Throughout the reading of this book, individuals might find themselves engaging in philosophical, theological, and/or ideological thought—which sounds like a pretty good result, coming from a book written by a Jesuit. It should be noted that in this book, the vocabulary gets course and gritty. This is written by a man who has spent his entire adult life working with and for gang members, after all. Yet, regardless of the vocabulary found in these pages, and regardless of the emotions and ideas induced, this book offers up a real value that is often times missed in memoirs of a similar ilk.

In this book, Boyle gives voice to the silent. Throughout the process of outlining this review, I struggled with the question of which, if any, stories might I mention here. In the end, I find myself dismissive to the idea of promoting one or the other. Instead, I do my best to encourage you to read them all. Read the sad ones. Read the funny ones. Read the ones about young boys who never got a shot at life, simply because of the street corner they were born closest to. Read the ones about the former gang-bangers turned community leaders. Again, read them all.

 A great thing about this book is that you don’t have to see the world the same as Father Boyle does in order to find an inherent value. You don’t have to consider yourself a religious person. You don’t have to consider yourself a “good Samaritan” or an “others centered” type of being. No, really that’s not needed. Yet, if you’re interested in being challenged by a segment of society that you’re either ignorant toward, or just haven’t thought about in a long while, then this book may do you well. In the midst of a culture ensnared in division and disunity, it may do us all well to seek out compassion and to work toward togetherness. So, if you’re looking to be challenged, or you’re looking for a real thought provoker, you can pick this book up in the new non-fiction collection at the Joplin Public Library

cycloneCyclone, by Doreen Cronin

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

Doreen Cronin author of “Click Clack, Moo! Cows That Type,” among other popular story books, has launched her debut Juvenile Fiction novel, “Cyclone.”  Set in what appears to be present day, the story revolves around a central character, Nora who is in her early teens, and Nora’s feelings of responsibility for a stroke experienced by her teenage cousin, Riley.

Nora and Riley are best friends and best cousins.  When Nora answers Riley’s phone during a summer vacation sleepover and hears an older man’s voice, her suspicions that Riley is hiding an older man as a boyfriend spark an argument.  After a tussle for the phone in which Nora is knocked to the floor, she confronts Riley, who refuses to provide any information regarding the caller.  The two quickly move forward, now with a shared secret.

The next day Nora is scheduled to ride the Cyclone at Coney Island to finish a summer homework assignment.  Riley is the only family member that will entertain the idea of riding the coaster with Nora.  When Riley gets cold feet and backs out, Nora uses the “secret boyfriend” as blackmail to ensure she doesn’t have to ride the coaster alone. Despite Riley’s increasing anxiety and obvious panic, she rides the coaster in order to keep her secret.

The two exit the ride and are taking a selfie when Riley collapses with what we later learn is a stroke due to a heart condition.  Nora carries the guilt of the incident throughout the story.  Along the way we see her growth as she contemplates her unwillingness or inability to actually listen objectively to those in her life.

With Riley now having challenges with speech, Nora struggles with what to do with her knowledge of the secret boyfriend. During the climax of the novel, we learn that things aren’t always as they appear and listening to someone deeply helps build two way communication in relationships.

To successfully portray the challenges, anxiety, and confusion of an early teenage girl going through a traumatic event such as the one portrayed, Cronin uses Nora’s summer homework assignment, in which she has to write a school paper that includes footnotes.[1]  Cronin uses the report, and the footnotes, throughout the book as a device to explain medical terminology.

My respect for Ms. Cronin’s picture book talent led me to pick up this book.  The characters are believable and their voice becomes stronger as the novel progresses.  However, the use of footnotes to explain the medical terminology feels a bit patronizing and there are times when the characters seem overly emotional.  This book may appeal to those who are experiencing a medical situation or those curious about the medical field.

[1] Footnotes are an extra bit of information about something typically printed at the bottom of the page-like this footnote.

Accidental PresidentSome of the most significant events in world history transpired in April through August of 1945. Germany’s surrender, the creation of the United Nations, the Potsdam Conference, the testing and use of the atomic bomb, and Japan’s surrender to end World War II all happened from April 12 – August 14, 1945 – the first 4 months of the Truman presidency.

A.J.  Blaine has penned a compelling chronicle of this time in The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World. This well-researched work takes the reader day by day through this momentous period but this is not a dry timeline of events. Blaine brings the events and people to life on the page and you feel as if you are in the room.

Blaine starts his narrative on April 12th which began as an ordinary day for Harry Truman. He rose at his normal early hour and took his walk before heading to his office in the Senate building. But this was no ordinary day and by nightfall he was sworn in as president and briefed on the secret weapon being developed, the atomic bomb. Stunned by the death of Franklin Roosevelt, many in the country wondered who Harry Truman is and would he be able to do the job. Truman himself said “I’m not big enough for this job”.

Before continuing with Truman’s presidency Blaine gives us an abbreviated biography. The author uses these pages to show us the qualifications and character Truman brought to the White House. He never went to college but he was well read and loved music. He was devoted to and loved Bess from the time he met her. In the Army during World War I he showed his ability as a leader but was unsuccessful in business. Even though he was elected with the help of Tom Pendergast (who ran Kansas City politics) Truman was honest in all his dealings as presiding judge in Jackson County.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate while Pendergast was still powerful and was dubbed the senator from Pendergast. But he won, to the surprise of many, a second term after Pendergast’s arrest and imprisonment. His committee to investigate waste and corruption in the national defense program saved money and brought him some national recognition.

Even though Truman wasn’t a complete unknown, the Democratic Party was stunned by his nomination as Vice-President for Roosevelt’s historic fourth term. He was a reluctant nominee but once nominated he campaigned tirelessly for the president.

Even though he was Roosevelt’s choice for VP he was not part of the inner circle and was not included in briefings or negotiations. On April 13th, his first full day as president, Truman began to learn the depth of what he did not know.

As Blaine recounts the next 123 days not every decision and meeting is detailed. Instead you get a sense of just how busy each day was and the amount of information Truman has to absorb from meetings and reports. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman’s cabinet meetings were for reporting and information. Following this meeting he would sometimes spend his whole morning in back to back 15 minute meetings.

During the first 2 weeks of the new administration, Roosevelt was buried, Nazi death camps were liberated, the United Nations conference began in San Francisco, Berlin fell, Mussolini was executed, Hitler committed suicide, and on President Truman’s 61st birthday, Germany surrendered.

The next weeks and months were more of the same with a deteriorating relationship with the Soviets, the war with Japan and the fulfilling of his official duties as president. The conference with Stalin and Churchill was to begin in July and the president wanted to be prepared. While determining what he believed was best for the U.S., Truman was aware of his obligation to honor both the agreements Roosevelt had made and the man himself.

The Potsdam Conference, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 14th ends this historic and pivotal 4 months.

The biographical information was an important part of the book but slowed the pace of the narrative. Once the countdown of days began however, this work was hard to put down. This fascinating look at what has to be one of the most difficult periods any president has faced, shows that the man who thought “he wasn’t big enough” greatly underestimated his abilities.

Rebel MechanicsI found today’s title while searching for reading material for an upcoming book club gathering.  Book clubs offer an excuse to read for fun and so much more.  They are a great way to explore new reading territory and to add titles to your “To Be Read” stack.  Lists of suggested titles for book clubs are fantastic resources and easily found online or with the help of a librarian.

Rebel Mechanics: All is Fair in Love and Revolution by Shanna Swendson was a serendipitous find for me.  It has been a fun trip into alternative history, a fiction type which has been around for a long time but hasn’t shown up on my reading list that often.  Collins English Dictionary defines alternative history as “a genre of fiction in which the author speculates on how the course of history might have been altered if a particular historical event had had a different outcome”.  Many times alternative (or alternate) histories use a military history starting point—What if the Axis had won World War II?  What if the British had won the American Revolution?—and build the story around that.  Some alternative histories use pivotal historical events not tied to warfare as their foundations—What if Lincoln had not been assassinated?  What if the dinosaurs had not died out?

In Rebel Mechanics, Swendson imagines a different beginning to the U.S.; the back of the book jacket says it best, “What if British magic kept the American Revolution from ever occurring?”  The story takes place in 1888 New York City, a bustling metropolis where society is divided along class, economic, and magical lines as it is everywhere in the British colonies.  The British landed gentry possess magical powers and use them for economic prosperity and technological advancement which are denied everyone else.  Yet, revolution is afoot!  Masked bandits operate Robin Hood-style, stealing secret information and ill-gotten gains from the government in support of an underground resistance.  The resistance, known as the Rebel Mechanics, develops steam-powered technology to provide an alternative to magical oppression and to highlight the injustices of the gentry (dubbed magisters).

Enter Verity Newton, a seventeen-year-old daughter of a college professor embarking on a new life in the big city.  After an adventure-filled start to her tale (Train robbery!  Wild bus ride!  Police chase!), she is hired as a governess in one of the most powerful magister families in the colonies.  As she navigates the rarified world of the nobility and gets to know her charges, Verity makes friends with a lively group of non-magisters including Lizzie the firebrand and handsome science student Alec.  All is not as it seems, though.  Why do her new-found friends seem to turn up at just the right place and time?  Is her employer, entomologist Lord Henry Lyndon, really tracking beetles when he leaves the house?  Why does he return bruised and bloodied?  What goes on beneath the streets of New York?  Secrets abound!  Intrigue and danger lurk around the corner!

Shanna Swendson packs a lot into her book.  Rebel Mechanics is a treasure chest of action, adventure, espionage, magic, romance, politics, self-discovery, betrayal, science, class commentary, and steampunk atmosphere—and that’s the first half.  It’s a rollicking ride through Verity’s expanding world and the city’s expanding consciousness.  Swendson creates believable, interesting characters and places them in equally interesting situations.  She shows us New York from Verity’s point of view, and it’s easy to get caught up in the character’s feelings and interior monologue.  The author drives the plot with plenty of action yet includes enough reflection to develop her characters.  She sets the steampunk scene with descriptions of 1880s technology, sights, and sounds.  Sometimes I found myself wanting a bit more polish on the story—there’s a lot packed into it and in a handful of places she could have done a little bit more with what she had instead of squeezing in more.  All in all, Rebel Mechanics is a fun, light book—perfect for a study break or holiday binge reading.  Give this one to middle schoolers and high schoolers interested in steampunk settings, adventure stories, or gentle reads with chaste romance.

I can’t wait to chat about Rebel Mechanics at the next Teen Book Club gathering—Thursday, December 7, from 6:00-7:00 pm at the library.  Participants read a title of their choice based on the month’s theme; at the meeting, the group chats about their books then picks a theme for the next month.  Teens are welcome to bring a brown bag supper, if they like; the library supplies beverage and dessert.  This month we’re reading alternative history and serving hot chocolate with holiday treats.  Teen Book Club is free, open to grades 6-12; no registration necessary.  Questions about Teen Book Club or other library services for teens?  Call me at the library’s Teen Department, (417) 623-7953, extension 1027.  Happy reading!

bestdayWhile I was reading BEST DAY EVER by KAIRA ROUDA, I made a Facebook post that said “Only 50 pages in and I want to strangle the narrator.” A friend advised that I was “allowed to put it down” and I realized I couldn’t. Just like when I tackled Flynn’s GONE GIRL, I knew I was going to have to finish this book. I needed to know what happens to the characters. I needed to know that Paul Strom was going to be punished for being truly awful.

Everything about Paul is perfect. He has the perfect life: a high-powered job, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Mia, and two young sons. And he has planned the perfect weekend getaway with Mia at their second home in an exclusive gated community. He even assembled the perfect playlist as the soundtrack the their weekend. (Paul is prone to repetition; maybe it affected me a little.) But if everything is so wonderful, then why does Mia seem so unhappy? Why are Paul’s thoughts so dark? What are they both hiding?

As the day’s events intensify, Mia seems to know more about Paul’s darker half than he realizes. She asks questions about his work life that make him incredibly nervous. Of course, he thinks he’s too smart to be found out. She’s just a silly housewife, no threat to him whatsoever. But Paul’s overconfidence may end up being his downfall.

Written primarily from Paul’s perspective, this book is very character-driven. He is an intense, brooding, and flawed person. In many ways, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Is Paul a psychopath or just creepy and controlling? Or both? Or is he just an exaggerated character who is created to tell a story?

I think that Paul, while perhaps a bit embellished, is a very realistic character. He’s overly concerned with status and brand (he mentions a least a dozen times that he drives a Ford Flex). Maintaining a picture-perfect life is what he strives for. And maybe that’s what felt over the top about him. If he’s a psychopath, would he care about creating an illusion? Or would he just try not to get discovered? Regardless of these nitpicks, the story is both disturbing and compelling.

Even though I was angry at the narrator, I think that’s the mark of a successful book. Rouda managed to evoke incredibly strong emotions from me. I was filled with disgust for Paul. I rooted for Mia to confront her controlling husband. I wanted answers to all the questions brought up by Paul’s unsettling internal monologue. For the most part, I got those answers. But can you really trust the answers of someone as suspicious as Paul?

Sometimes, it’s fun to explore the scary things in the world. I think I prefer the more impossible side of scary, though. Give me vampires, werewolves, and Ancient Ones any day. Knowing that there are really people like Paul out there made Rouda’s book more unsettling for me. But, if you don’t mind getting inside the head of someone who is, frankly, unlikeable and unreliable, then BEST DAY EVER might be for you.