Monday, February 27, 2023

Atomic Family by Ciera Horton McElroy


Ciera Horton McElroy's debut novel, ATOMIC FAMILY, publishing February 7, 2023 from Blair. 
It's historical fiction meets eco-activism meets The Twilight Zone meets doomsday-domesticity...

Though it's a work of fiction, the story is heavily inspired by real events and people. 
Ciera's grandfather—who died in 1976, nearly twenty years before she was born—was a chief agronomist, responsible for disposing of nuclear waste at the Savannah River Plant (SRP). 
At the time, this meant burying irradiated materials in the ground. 
This also meant his work was top secret: his wife and son knew nothing about his other life.
February 28, 2023


Publishers Weekly gave it a gorgeous starred review"Powerful debut...McElroy writes with veracity about the effects of nuclear waste on the land and water, and brings to life the strange mix of terror and naivete of the era."

Atomic Family is a wholly original, gripping, and stunningly crafted story of one family’s attempt to cope with the fears and uncertainty of the nuclear age. Ciera Horton McElroy captures the fragility of a young boy and his parents as they struggle with their own personal demons in the face of potential catastrophe. Atomic Family is as lyrical and assured as it is devastating.”—Diane Chamberlain, NYT bestselling author of The Last House on the Street

“Ciera Horton McElroy is a magician of prose and psychology. Atomic Family is a Mrs. Dalloway updated for the nuclear age, an intense excavation of memory, trauma, and hope. Her characters, so deeply felt, will whisper to you at night long after you finish the book."—Brenda Peynado, The Rock Eaters

Atomic Family is a gorgeous, suspenseful story of the Cold War and of complicated characters living in the wake of the second Red Scare. Historically precise, but never a history lesson, the novel explores a series of moments as resonant and relevant to America today as they have ever been. A glorious debut announcing the arrival of an astonishing talent on the literary scene.”—David James Poissant, Lake Life and The Heaven for Animals

“In Atomic Family, McElroy writes with authority and astonishing lyricism. Fearlessly delving into her characters’ private pain and their deepest desires to be seen and understood, McElroy masterfully reminds that suffering paves the road to redemption. This is an astonishing achievement from an extremely gifted storyteller.”—Gina Ochsner, The Hidden Letters of Velta B.

“Full of beauty and pain, humor and horror, Atomic Family is the real deal: a historical page-turner that pulls readers through a gripping day in the life of a family, and a country, searching for light in the darkness. McElroy is a welcome new voice on the literary scene, and Atomic Family is a reminder that the best historical fiction matters today more than ever.”—Jake Wolff, The History of Living Forever



It’s November 1, 1961, in a small town in South Carolina, and nuclear war is coming.

Ten-year-old Wilson Porter believes this with every fiber of his being.

He prowls his neighborhood for Communists and studies fallout pamphlets and the habits of his father, a scientist at the nuclear plant in town.

Meanwhile, his mother Nellie covertly joins an anti-nuclear movement led by women in town—and his father, Dean, must decide what to do with the damning secrets he’s uncovered at the nuclear plant.

When tragedy strikes, the Porter family must learn to confront their fears—of the world and of each other.



Debut novel from a powerful emerging voice: In addition to fiction published in a number of journals, Ciera has written for film and digital projects. In Atomic Family, shemasterfully evokes the early 1960s—the  daily life of housewives on the edge of a revolution, as well as the fraught atmosphere of the duck-and-cover era.

Inspired by McElroy’s real-life family story: This impeccably researched story is inspired by McElroy’s grandfather, who was a nuclear physicist at an atomic plant in the
South in the 1960s. McElroy drew from a rich family history, photographs, declassified reports, and primary sources in crafting this novel.

An enduring and timeless environmental fiction: While a general audience will also enjoy this book, fans of Charlotte McNaughty’s Once There Were Wolves and Richard Powers’ The Overstory will find a new favorite eco-fiction novel in Atomic Family. Despite the book's Cold War setting, this narrative is increasingly relevant to a world combating environmental crisis.



Ciera Horton McElroy (b. 1995) was raised in Orlando, Florida. She holds a BA from Wheaton College and an MFA from the University of Central Florida. 
Her work has appeared in AGNIBridge EightIron Horse Literary Reviewthe Crab Orchard Review, and Saw Palm, among others. 
She currently lives in St. Louis with her husband and son.