Customer Reviews: Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town
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on December 11, 2008
I read some of the other reviews, people claiming that the facts in the story about the connection between the Brookhaven Laboratory and Shirley were incorrect, or missrepresented. So, before I bought the book, I paused.

BUT, now having finished the book, I am glad I bought it. I never have lived on Long Island, and I have never been to Shirley, so I can't say that I know that each fact Kelly McMasters presents is correct, but I can say that I enjoyed her argument, and her story.

A lot of literature about the environment, or fighting the government, is dry, and lacking a real human connection. Not this book. I loved that although Kelly offers straight facts about various contaminants, and spills in the areas, she also introduces you to real people. People who you feel a connection to, people you feel real empathy for when they leave the story.

Reading this book will not give you a scientific answer behind the involvement of the Brookhaven Laboratory and Shirley's high rate of cancer. But it will possibly inspire you to do a little research, at least it did for me.

At the end of the day, it peaked my curiosity, and most of all made me interested in the people. She never claimed to have all the answers to a towns problems, simply the platform to tell their story.
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on November 13, 2008
I read this book on a plane to Switzerland. Couldn't put it down. Kelly McMasters is a great writer. I felt sad and outraged that the Brookhaven people wouldn't admit the role the plant played in the obviously strange cancer rates in the area. McMasters does a great job combining factual information with beautiful prose and evocative descriptions of the town and it's people. I learned alot reading this book. About the gross negligence and indifference to human lives that government and corportations are capable of. About how beauty can be found even in the most unlikely places. And mostly about how strongly a person can love where they are from, even when there is seemingly nothing there to love. The reason this book strikes a chord is because it is not just another "big bad corporation vs. the people" story. It is the very human way McMasters describes the people and nature of Shirley that makes the book so much more. She relates how, little by little, as she and the town grow up/older, they both lose their innocence to outside forces. Is it just me, or do some of these other reviewers sound like former Brookhaven employees? Don't let those reviews dissuade this. You'll probably see a little bit of your own hometown in it.
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on November 1, 2008
My family has owned a house in Mastic Beach since the late 70's, primarily as a vacation home. I remember all the summers spent out there, it had so much promise, but it never materialized. Reading the book brought back many of the good memories as well as the bad, I could close my eyes and see Handy Pantry again and taste Onofrio's pizza. Not being able to drink the water, don't stay in the shower too long, etc, etc. My sister who spent the most time out at the house recently passed away from breast cancer, no family history, my aunt who had a house up the block passed away with breast cancer, uncle who also had a house up the block passed away from cancer.....needless to say, everyone knew that there was a problem, but the big machine can't be questioned. I will never go out to the house again and will never take my kids there.
I sent a copy of the book to my remaining 3 sisters and 1 brother hoping that they will never go to the house again.
I don't really care whether or not the basic history facts may or may not be 100% accurate. The fact remains that BNL polluted the area with toxic waste and nobody did anything about it.
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on July 19, 2008
I just finished reading this book and it is an easy read. I usually get bored mid-way through a book. This book kept be interested with the mix of her personal stories and factual information about the radioactive pollution that is affecting people in the Suffolk County area. The lab sits on top of the sole aquifer in the area and is pumped into the homes of families within about a twenty mile radius.
I am particularly interested because I live in Shirley's sister town, Mastic Beach. My mother in-law lived there for 20+ years, has no history of breast cancer in her family, never smoked, never abused alcohol and has been in and out of remission from breast cancer. Her oncologist said she is a 'rare' case because she never abused these things and it does not run in her large family. But it does not seem that they took into consideration where she was living.
I remember watching the Montel Williams show when they did a piece with Alec Baldwin in the late 90's about the 13 rare childhood cancers in Suffolk county. They were 1 in a million (or higher) cancers and when you viewed the map you could see where the children lived created a circle around Brookhaven Lab. McMasters speaks of a child in the book that has a one in 4 million case of cancer and how her father finds out there are 28 other cases of it in Suffolk County.
McMasters speaks of the danger this radioactive water poses in everyday life. Shocking revelation after shocking revelation are revealed: it's not just about drinking the water; hand-washing clothes (for instance)the agitation of the clothes in the water releases the water into the air for the person to inhale and absorb the isotopes into the lungs and bloodstream. This also occurs when we shower and the vaporized steam is inhaled and also absorbed through the skin upon contact. The water we use everyday in innumerable ways is the enemy and we can't get away from it unless we get away from the area.
As she grows up cancer seems to envelope the people in her area. She reports of numerous young adults having benign tumors and then going back to the doctors, those same adults now have developed cancer.
Everyone needs to read this book. You never know what is lurking in your backyard and how it is affecting you.
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on August 15, 2013
Kelly McMasters takes you into the life of her family and neighborhood in a way that makes their eventual sickening a heart-wrenching conclusion. Now that you know the whole story, you must read the details for yourself to feel the same strong emotions that I did and maybe decide to do something about it on your own.
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on July 31, 2013
I absolutely loved this book. I grew up right on the border of Shirley and my family had friends there, so we went there all the time. This book was a touching loving tribute of the author's feelings for her beloved adopted town. What was not so easy to read was the fact that the town sits on or near a toxic waste dump. It was heartbreaking to read of all the cancer deaths due to the radiation in the area. This book is wonderfully written. You feel like you know the people. You laugh and cry with them. It was sad to read of the downward spiral of Shirley.
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on April 26, 2009
A terrific book. Kelly McMasters weaves the personal and political into an insightful and heart-wrenching tapestry. Great research, as well as a poignant portrait of the author's life, and that that of her hard-scrabble, big-hearted town. At moments disturbing and elegiac, at others uplifting, the book is also a call to action. I love the way McMasters takes the traditional memoir form and broadens it into a political essay. Well done.
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on December 23, 2008
Thanks Kelly for perfectly capturing the spirit of our shared hometown. I often find it hard to explain why I am simultaneously compelled to defend and run away from Shirley. I lived in Shirley from 1971 until 1986, had "city water" and know several of the people and families included in your story. My mom just finally sold our house in 2006. The lab has always been a clandestine "something's not right" zone and I found your account of all the bits and pieces simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. I guess Shirley is just a town of juxtaposing emotions.
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on September 17, 2009
To begin with, I absolutely loved this book. The writing is deeply engaging and elegiac. The characters and anecdotes which populate Kelly McMasters' memoir are pitch-perfect; I can say this with some authority having grown up on Long Island as well. This book filled me with wistful nostalgia for places which are gone now, in a sense, never to be again what they once were. If you grew up as part of a small neighborhood, part of a group of friends who spent day after day in one another's houses, backyards and front stoops, this book will inevitably resonate with you. Layered with the history of that small town, and (most of all) the dark legacy which hovered over that time and place of innocence, the effect of this book is nothing so much as haunting. I want to share this book with friends and family, and I wanted to share my appreciation for this work with other Amazon customers as well.

So, imagine my shock to have logged on here, and encountered so many unfavorable reviews for "Welcome to Shirley"! Clearly, the objections here pertain mostly to factual accuracy regarding the scientific and historical details surrounding the environmental issues and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Being neither a professional historian nor scientist myself, I cannot vouch one way or the other for the veracity of the facts presented here. However, being a writer, I have something to share about the truth of Kelly McMasters' work which transcends facts and figures. What good writing (and art in general) can do is bring us closer to truths which elude historical records. If there are inaccuracies in Kelly McMasters' research, and there may well be some, they don't invalidate the truth of what it means to find oneself, for the first time in one's life, in a place that feels like home. Technical details don't play into the personal reality of watching a best friend's father, the soul of a neighborhood, wither away from cancer. No amount of data can outweigh the sensual perceptions of a living in a seaside town, which Kelly McMasters captures so beautifully. And finally, all the elements in the periodic table cannot change the truth which everyone who has grown up on Long Island in the past half-century knows, that a too-large percentage of our mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, aunts, nieces and so forth are breast cancer survivors or victims. Whatever Kelly McMasters' work may have missed in facts, it gets right in feeling. To whatever degree this idea has validity for you, you may be more or less troubled by the things which have bothered other reviewers here. For my part, I feel richer for having spent time in Shirley and its environs with this sensitive, talented author.
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on March 22, 2013
This book shows that even in the 1970" and 1980's there was a lot of poisoning of our land, water etc. by government funded labs,such as the Brookhaven Lab on the south shore of Long Island. The author shows what it was like to grow up in this area and then the impact of the toxins on neighbors ,friends etc.
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