Book Review

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love & Fallout by Lauren Redniss - A Guest Review


Title: Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout
Author: Lauren Redniss
Publication Info: It Books 2010
ISBN: 978-0061351327
Genre: Graphic Novel

Bright Neon Cover - Radioactive:  Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and FalloutThis guest review is by Carrie S. 

Sometimes I define my role with Smart Bitches as that person who says, “What ever could that strange noise be!  You wait here – I'll go into the basement with a malfunctioning flashlight to check it out.” What I mean by that is that I investigate a lot of books that look romantic but aren't on the “romance” shelves of the bookstore, and I report back to you on the romance or lack thereof in said books.  In keeping with this, I checked out the graphic novel, “Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a tale of Love and Fallout.”  I'm going to give you a quick spoiler-free summing up in the first paragraph, and after that paragraph, spoilers will abound. 

n short, “Radioactive” contains a gorgeous, inspiring romance, but is not in itself a romance novel.  It also contains a lot of tragedy and is only partially about the Curies as a couple.  The science and biography and storytelling and art are wonderfully crafted and I absolutely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science, women's history, or the graphic novel format.  However, I don't recommend it as a straight-up romance, even though it does contain a wonderful romance as part of the larger narrative.   Run, don't walk, to your library or bookstore and read it right this minute, just know that it's not a romance novel.


First, let's talk romance.  Now, obviously a non-fiction biography is never going to meet romance novel criteria, because at some point somebody (and, eventually, everybody) dies.  In their quest for a HEA, most romance novels conveniently ignore this inevitability.  In the case of Radioactive (and remember, you're in MAJOR SPOILER land now), the love story of Marie and Pierre Curie ended abruptly when Pierre was hit by a carriage while crossing a street.  So basically, what we've got here is one of the finest romances ever written, fictional or otherwise, right up until page 95.  I can't overemphasize how well-written and delightful and moving the love story is, but even though the title of the book suggests that it is about the couple of Marie and Pierre, that's only true for half the book.  After that it's all about Marie.

Now that we've got the smooching out of the way, I get to tell you that the book over-all is amazing.  Lauren Redniss tells the story of Marie Curie through words and art by interweaving Marie's life history with the history of radium and polonium, the elements Curie discovered.  At first I didn't like the minimalist style of the art but as I kept reading I appreciated the simplicity of the art and the way it enhanced the story.  I also appreciated the way the interwoven vignettes about chemistry, physics, and history enhanced the story just as the story gave depth and interest to the more academic material.  I was completely mesmerized by the book and yet I read it slowly because every quote from Marie gave me something new to think about and savor.  Really, truly, I know the misleading title is evil, but you have to read this book, it is just so darn awesome.

Radioactive left me hungry for more, but in a good way.  I felt intrigued, but not frustrated.  As long as you don't go in expecting that the book will be about Marie and Pierre, I think Smart Bitch readers will love the story of Marie on many levels – in some ways it is the ultimate cross-over book.  I would give it to someone who says they're not into science, or someone who says they don't like graphic novels, or someone who says they don't like non-fiction.  It's that good.  I just wouldn't use it as an example of a romance novel, what with all that pesky reality getting in the way of a happy ending.

This book is available at Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    snarkhunter says:

    When I saw the title, I honestly thought it was going to be a zombie novel. Like, Zombie!Curies love and live the radioactive undead life while fighting crime or something.

    I probably would’ve read that book. But I *really* want to read this one. …come to think of it, I could probably even call it research, since it aligns neatly with my current project.

  2. 2

    Thanks for the review!  So much can be said about Marie Curie and what she accomplished in her life.  It shows her great strengths that she was able to do so much after her husband’s tragic death.

  3. 3
    KarenH. says:

    Squeee!!! I’ve been a fangirl of Marie Curie since I was actually a girl; I read a Scholastic-recommended bio of hers years and years ago and that book too was a romance in a non-romance.  I guess there’s no way to discuss Marie and Pierre Curie without discussing the romance :)  I only read your review up to the spoiler section; this book is going into my cart today!  Yay!

  4. 4
    Katherine O'Grady says:

    This book is right up my alley! I’m also a fan of Marie Curie – I read biographies about her when I was a kid. And I identify with her as a fellow woman of science/engineering.

    So I’m dying to get my hands on an ecopy of this book. Can I find it? No!
    It Books is Harper Collins, and they say that Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc offer the ebook, when they only offer the hard copy. The only seller I can find is iThing. And I don’t have an iThing to read it on. Boo! I’m going to email HC and ask them WTF.
    If anyone can point me to an eformat where I can purchase the book, I’d be grateful.

  5. 5
    Lizwadsworth65 says:

    Thanks for reviewsing this!  I think I’ll recommend it to my sister; she teaches special ed and is always on the lookout for good graphic novels that will get her students interested in reading.

  6. 6
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Great review. 
    And Yay! my library has it and Boo! I’m 3rd on the request list.
    BTW, whenever I read about Marie Curie I picture Greer Garson, thanks to the lovely bio-drama from 1943 titled Madame Curie (Walter Pigeon played Pierre).

  7. 7
    Hannah says:

    I think this title really only works, as many other graphic titles, in print or at least in a full-color, large screen format (such as the version for Ipad). In fact I heard this title mentioned a few weeks ago by a guest on The Kindle Chronicles podcast as an example of a book that works better in print.

  8. 8
    Sarahendo says:

    I saw the exhibit for this book in the NYC library.  The artwork is beautiful!

  9. 9
    Katherine O'Grady says:

    Oh yes. I agree it would only work on a larger, colour screen.

    I have a tablet that is not an iThing, and would like to read it on that, which is why I was hoping for a format that is supported on my tablet.

  10. 10
    Violet Bick says:

    Great review. Thanks. But I missed the guest reviewer’s name in the post. Is it CarrieS?

  11. 11
    CarrieS says:

    Hey, it’s me!  Thanks for noticing the name is missing.

  12. 12
    snarkhunter says:

    I was wondering that myself! :)

  13. 13
    CarrieS says:

    Perhaps now I am so famous that I need no introduction, LOL

  14. 14
    Bnbsrose says:

    HA! The GBPL has it shelved in available so tonight, she is mine!

  15. 15

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