Review of Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science

Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to ScienceHidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science
by Jeannine Atkins
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    288 pp.    g
1/22    978-1-6659-0250-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6659-0252-6    $10.99

Another real-life, courageous, boundary-pushing woman gets some well-deserved attention in Atkins’s (Grasping M­ysteries, rev. 11/20; Finding Wonders, rev. 7/16) novel in verse. Readers first meet Jewish physicist Lise Meitner (1878–1968) as she “aches to taste hope,” clutching fake papers aboard a train at the German border in 1938. Atkins then leaves her audience in suspense and backtracks to Meitner’s childhood in Austria, as she chafes against restrictions preventing girls from formal schooling after age thirteen. When the University of Vienna finally opens its doors to women, Meitner is the only female physics student. After earning a PhD and publishing her work on radiation, she moves to Berlin and begins ­conducting unpaid research in a makeshift basement laboratory. Vivid and ­poignant, Atkins’s poems chronicle Meitner’s hesitation to abandon her experiments and flee Germany after Hitler’s rise to power; her horror at realizing her role in the creation of the atomic bomb; and her disappointment that her longtime male collaborator received the Nobel Prize for their shared discovery of nuclear fission, while she was snubbed. Atkins meshes “facts with empathy” in this stirring portrait of—as Meitner’s epitaph reads—“A Physicist Who Never Lost Her Humanity.” An author’s note, a timeline, an annotated list of Meitner’s colleagues, and a selected bibliography are appended.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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