Glow is a young adult novel by Megan E. Bryant that sheds light on a dark time in American history. Julie (Jubilee) Chase, a high school graduate who was looking forward to attending College only to have it postponed due to her mother’s debt issues. When the bank was about to foreclose on their mortgage, Julie cashed out her college fund to buy the house. She harbors resentment towards her mother for having to lose her college fund, putting her dreams on hold, while her mom seems to not be bothering to find a job. Julie’s friend Lauren is from a well-to-do family and is off to college leaving Julie behind. This creates a rift between the two, bringing the worst out of the both of them. Attempting to salvage their friendship they head off for a fun day of shopping (Lauren’s idea), and Julie buys a painting at Lost and Found consignment store. When darkness blankets Julie’s room the painting reveals a glowing secret artwork that ignites her curiosity. She becomes obsessed with finding more paintings by the same artist, and attempts to re-create the technique. Julie has no idea that the technique involves the “radium girls” who unknowingly poisoned themselves while painting numbers on watch dials used to help soldiers see the time more accurately during WWI.
Bryant uses fictional characters inspired by real history to tell the story of the “radium girls.” The perspective shifts back and forth from Lydia in 1917-1918 to Julie in modern time. We hear Lydia’s story from letters she writes to her beloved Walter who has gone off to war. Lydia has an incredible weight upon her shoulders at 16 years old. Her older sister Liza helps Lydia get a job at ARC painting watch dials with a magical glowing substance. The same magical powder used to make the paint is also sold as a cure for practically all ailments.
While running an errand at the local college Julie meets Luke (Lucien), a chemistry student working at the college over the summer. Their friendship evolves as he helps her figure out how to create the glow-in-the-dark paint.
Through Julie’s research and Lydia’s letters we learn the heart-wrenching story of the Grayson sisters. There are parts of the story which are descriptive and vivid. I will admit that I cried twice while reading this page-turner.
I do have a couple of complaints. For one, why is Julie friends with Lauren? Lauren is selfish, stubborn, and rude. I feel like the tension between Lauren and Julie was unnecessary to the plot.
I also find it strange that Julie didn’t suspect the glow-in-the-dark paint used on the vintage artwork. She researched how to create the paint, yet somehow didn’t stumble across the possibility of radioactive ingredients.
There were a couple of times where the dialogue felt a bit clunky, and I also think Lydia’s letters are a little unbelievable. I don’t know anyone who writes complete back-and-forth dialogue while recounting an event in a letter.
Even though a couple small areas were bothersome, this is an extremely important story to write, to read, and to share. Glow is an incredible story that sheds light on the hideous greed of some companies who put profit above health, giving opportunity for brave people to sacrifice, and fight for what’s right.
Expected Publication: September 1st, 2017
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
I received an advanced copy in exchange for my honest, unbiased opinion. Thank you Brandi from Flutter Communications, the publisher, and NetGalley, for allowing me to review.
The Goblin Market poem is mentioned in the story, so of course I had to find it and read it 🙂
“The United States Radium Corporation was a company, most notorious for its operations between the years 1917 to 1926 in Orange, New Jersey, in the United States that led to stronger worker protection laws. After initial success in developing a glow-in-the-dark radioactive paint, the company was subject to several lawsuits in the late 1920s in the wake of severe illnesses and deaths of workers (the Radium Girls) who had ingested radioactive material. The workers had been told that the paint was harmless. During World War I and World War II, the company produced luminous watches and gauges for the United States Army for use by soldiers.“