The Physicists’ Daughter

Written by Mary Anna Evans
Review by Beth Kanell

The trend of catching up with women who’ve made historic choices and actions often focuses on those who were “famous” or at least pathbreakers. Mary Anna Evans offers instead a situation that at first seems very ordinary: like other women of New Orleans in 1944, Justine Byrne, age 20, has a factory job that can be boring: assembling parts of machines. Her parents have died in a car accident, and she’s living in a boarding house with other working girls, trying to get by and taking pride in doing her job well—especially when she can use her welding skills. That’s the first marker of Justine’s difference: Daughter of two physicists, excelling in math and science, she also can repair and build equipment that a lab might need—or an assembly line that must have its own secrets, feeding its parts and combinations into the ongoing war. Her own biggest secret is her German heritage, a risky background in a suspicious season. Yet when sabotage becomes evident in the factory, understanding the “enemy” language becomes yet another critical skill, as Justine struggles to avert calamity.

Evans adds a light thread of attraction to some of the men on hand—somehow not draftable, by age or condition—so that Justine must not only judge the machinery, but also the fellows trying to catch her eye. Flirtation, or something far more dangerous?

Evans lays out a fine tale of adventure and risk. What the book lacks in emotional depth, it more than makes up for in pace and detail. Accessible for those with little knowledge of World War II, The Physicists’ Daughter could also be a good teen read.