Book: HALF LIFE by Jillian Cantor

To all you readers who love independent, wickedly smart female characters, appreciate science, and love historical women’s fiction … HALF LIFE by Jillian Cantor is for you!

This is my favorite Jillian Cantor book to date (and I’ve loved them all. Admittedly, IN ANOTHER TIME is waiting for me on my shelf!)


But this book… I adore science, and admire women with brilliant minds. I also watched the Madame Curie movie, Radioactive, on Hulu last year – which further fascinated me about this real-life woman genius. When I saw this novel was coming out, I knew I would want to read it.

Cantor’s telling of the story is effective – the what if question applied to Marie Curie’s life. What if she’d chosen a different path and had ended up with her first love, instead of studying science in France (when she was then known as Marya Sklodowska)? Would her life have been markedly different? Would the world have been different, if not for her scientific discoveries.

The story follows Marie’s true life and, side by side, Marya’s imagined what if-life, begging the question: no matter the choices we make, do we end up where we need to be? Do we end up knowing and loving the people we are meant to know and love? Or could we have led entirely different lives if we’d chosen different paths? Would they have been better or worse lives?

This is a book I wish I’d read in print form, as it would have allowed me to flip back and forth to explain (with concrete examples) just how expertly the author was able to create synergies between both stories from chapter to chapter. Cantor has woven a smart tapestry between both lives, including themes, parallels and counterpoints that leave the reader wanting to know: does Marya end up in the same place as the real-life Marie, in the end, or would her life have been so different?

HALF LIFE by Jillian Cantor is smart women’s fiction showcasing science and history – and the emotions behind both.


(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of HALF LIFE by Jillian Cantor was published at GoodReads on August 1, 2021. It is reposted here with permission.)


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