Saturday, May 21, 2011


SOURCES OF LIGHT by Margaret McMullan

Lexile:    840          Pages:    234          Ages:     See below
 AR Quiz No. 136605 EN Fiction
  IL: MG+ - BL: 5.2 - AR Pts: 8.0
  AR Quiz Types: RP

This is a juvenile fiction book. I'll confess I just did a quick skim of the flyleaf and thought I had picked up a book about a young girl interested in photography. What I got was an intense, potent narrative of life during the racial strife in Mississippi during the early 60's.

Samantha is 14 years old, living with her mother in Jackson, Mississippi. Her father died a hero in Vietnam and having no relations on her mother's side, they have moved to be near her father's family. Her mother is a professor of art history at the university. A slightly bohemian figure, Sam's mom doesn't fit in with the bouffant, shirtwaist dress crowd of her friends' mothers. Sam herself doesn't fit in with the girls in her freshman class at the high school, still caught in that in-between world of not being a little girl and not yet being grown up. While the other girls in her class want to do things like practice kissing and writing to celebrities, Sam still likes to hula hoop and collect bugs in a jar, until the night she meets her classmate's older brother Stone.

Sam's mother meets Perry, a new professor in her department who teaches photography and they develop a relationship. Perry introduces Sam to photography and she discovers it is something she loves and has a natural talent for. Perry tells her she "has the eye."  Through Perry, Sam and her mother get involved in the racial issues of the day, helping black people register to vote and sticking up for black people in the segregated shops in town. Unfortunately, Stone's father is the head of the White Citizens'Council, a KKK-type organization without the hoods and capes.

In the midst of her blooming romance with Stone who, unlike his father, believes in the rights of all people, Sam is thrown into the middle of riots, political unrest, and even murder, capturing much of it on the camera that Perry has given her. Stone, trying to somehow stop the things his father is doing, and not knowing all of his father's sins, keeps showing up during the horrors, appearing to be with the other side. Sam doesn't know what to think and confronts Stone with proof of what his father has done.

In the end Sam and her mother end up basically being run out of town through her mother's firing and inability to find another job. However, in leaving they are moving toward a better life, so while you ache for what they have been through you also rejoice in what they are moving toward.

Booklist rates this book as being for grades 5-8, but School Library Journal puts it at grades 7-10. Given the subject matter and sometimes graphic descriptions I would have to agree with SLJ. While this is a work of fiction, I find it to be a relatively accurate accounting of the happenings of the 60's, from James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi to Medgar Evers' assassination. I would call it a must-read for anyone interested in the history of segregation in the south.

Happy Reading!
Miss Laurie

Get a copy of Sources of Light at the Lake County Public Library or click here to reserve a copy for delivery to your local branch.

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