Radium Girls

Iron Circus. May 2022. 134p. tr. from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger . pap. $15. ISBN 9781945820991.
In a tale that mingles tragedy with affirmations of the strength of sororal bonds, a French graphic artist looks back at the experiences of three World War I–era sisters and their friends who were poisoned by the radium paint used on watch dials at a New Jersey factory and went on to lose teeth, jaws, health, babies, and lives—while battling stubborn corporate denials of responsibility. The art, done in colored pencil with highlights in a lurid hue that Cy, in an appended interview, appropriately dubs “radium green,” is sketchy enough to hide gruesome details. Nevertheless, it strongly captures the emotional atmosphere as playful exchanges about ordinary life events and the way lips and fingertips glow in the dark give way first to dawning horror at early symptoms, physical breakdowns, and news of the deaths of coworkers, then to angry determination to fight for recognition and compensation from factory managers and scientists who had reassured them that the paint was harmless. An author interview with visual outtakes caps this poignant, powerful tribute. Steer older readers stirred to know more to her main source, Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women.
VERDICT Of particular interest to upper level readers as a landmark case in the history of workplace safety legislation, but what shines here most brightly are the voices and characters of the women involved.

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