Radium was discovered by Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie on December 21, 1898. When radium decays it causes luminescence. With America's entry into WWI came a need for self-luminous aircraft switches and instrument dials.
Marie and Pierre Curie by André Castaigne
Soldiers involved in trench warfare were especially in need of watches that could be seen in complete darkness. The harmful effects of radium were not yet known. Factories that produced the luminescent dials were set up Orange, New Jersey, Ottawa, Illinois, and Waterbury, Connecticut. These factories employed young girls and women to paint the numbers and hands with radium. Enter the radium girls.
Watch hands painted with radium
The painters were instructed to point their paintbrushes between their lips to create finer details on the numbers and hands of the watches. Not surprisingly, soon many of the workers began experiencing sores, anemia, and bone cancer. Radium is treated as calcium by the body and is deposited in the bones. The dial painting companies tried to cover up the adverse effects of radium and insisted that their workers were suffering syphilis (let that sink in for a minute). The tragedy of the radium girls, impart, lead to the forming of the Occupational Disease Labor Law.
'Glow' is told in alternating past and present points of view. Glow's past point of view tells the story of Lydia Grayson and her two sisters, Charlotte, and Liza. Liza works in the Orange, New Jersey dial painting factory. Liza gets Lydia a job there when one of the other girls becomes ill (a bit of foreshadowing here). This POV is told through letters Lydia writes to her beau, Walter, who is an American soldier fighting in Europe during WWI.
Glow's present POV is told from the first person perspective of Julie. Julie is a high school senior who is hoping to go to art school. Her future becomes marred due to family issues. Julie becomes fascinated with paintings she finds in a thrift store. She is then pulled into the search for the artist and the paintings past.
I love historical fiction but I have found that just plain historical fiction can be a bit dry. I really enjoy historical-fiction novels that switch between past and present points of view. When this done well, the past and present POV weave together two seemingly unrelated storylines that come together seamlessly.
YA historical fiction is not a genre that is as popular as it should be. Young Adult historical fiction is often pushed to the side by the flashier fantasy and feel-good contemporary novels. There are so many pieces of history that can tell an engaging story.
I loved so much about 'Glow'. I loved the characters of Liza and Lydia. Both their stories and personalities really brought life to the novel. Their younger sister Charlotte's passion to become one of the dial painters, like her sisters, really illustrated why women would want to work in the dial factories at this time. My one and only complaint with 'Glow' is that I would have liked to know more about Liza, Lydia, and Charlotte's mother. She was mentioned a few times but not really part of the story. I found my self-wondering how she was feeling about everything.
At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about Lydia's POV being told through her letters to her beau Walter. As I read, I realized these snippets of her life lead to the build-up of finding out what happened to her and her family. Their story was definitely a tear-jerker.
Julie's story was equally compelling. Her difficulties with her family and her friend, Lauren, really shows how she was struggling to deal with her own issues. Her love of art and science gave her an escape and gave an explanation why she was so fascinated by the paintings she discovered. Luke as a character was wonderful. Luke had his own issues so he was able to understand Julie's family problems. He was funny and kind and his added knowledge of chemistry added realism to Julie's story. I liked the relationship that he formed with Julie. Julie and Luke's relationship progressed slowly as this type of relationship usually does.
I found 'Glow' completely fascinating. I had never heard about the radium girls before. The radium girl's story is so enthralling and tragic. I can't believe their plight isn't more well known. This is such an important part of history. I have since found out that a non-fiction account of the radium girls story has been published and I am anxious to find out how it compares to 'Glow.'