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Sources of Light Hardcover – April 12, 2010
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 7–10—With the camera that her mother's colleague gives her, 14-year-old Samantha records a portrait of life in Mississippi during the year 1962–1963. Perry teaches her how to use it and in many ways how to see. He also sets a powerful example through his activism and determination to do the right thing. Sam begins her freshman year somewhat unaware of the racial tensions that exist around her. By the end of the school year though, she becomes acutely aware of the situation, and she and her mother are directly impacted by those struggles. Sam's personal life has its own pressures as she and her mother cope with the loss of her father in Vietnam the previous year, Perry and her mom grow closer, and Sam meets a boy who seems to be at odds with her views on racial equality. McMullan's characters are authentic to the time and place. The themes come through naturally, as do the imagery and symbolism of the camera. Like many novels that have civil rights at the center of them, this is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort. McMullan's well-chosen words realistically portray the conflicts that Sam, her mother, and those around them face. The truths the teen learns are timeless, allowing readers to identify with her. Make room on your library shelves for this one.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In 1962, 14-year-old Sam and her mother move from Pennsylvania to Jackson, Mississippi, a city on the edge of social upheaval as racial tensions come to a head. All Sam wants is to “live her life staying out the way,” but she finds that hard to do after her mother, an art professor, teaches a class at the local all-black college and becomes a target of white supremacist groups. Perry, her mother's photographer boyfriend, gives Sam a camera and the courage to record the sit-ins, voter registrations, and the violent rage provoked by peaceful protests. No one is demonized in this novel. McMullan, a Mississippi native, makes her characters complex, confused, and sympathetic. Most notably, Sam's love interest, Stone, seems decided in his racism and dangerous in his convictions; but his search for right is just as important as Sam's. In the end, readers will see the humanity of those on the wrong side of history, and may even feel compassion for them, too. Grades 5-8. --Courtney Jones
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This is our introduction to fourteen year old Sam. She tries to fit in at her new school, but it isn't long before she starts to realize that things in Jackson aren't anything like what she was used to in Pittsburgh. The pervasiveness of racism is something she initially tries to ignore, but not so her mother. When Mom starts dating Perry, another instructor at the college, their shared view of the wrongness of racism, coupled with Perry's encouragement of Sam's interest in photography (he gives her an older camera and teaches her how to develop her own pictures), force her to look at her new town with more mature eyes.
Her life gets even more complicated when she starts liking Stone McLemore, older brother of the most popular girl in her freshman class. Stone's father is extremely racist and as the relationship between the two teens progresses, Stone has to look in the mirror more carefully that he might like. At the same time, Sam's mom and Perry are receiving verbal and physical threats because of their actions against racism. The book comes to a shattering climax that's extremely real.
This is an excellent example of what historical fiction can be. It's a blend of recent history, family dynamics, young romance and coming of age. While it's been out for a while, I'd still encourage school and public libraries to add it because of its quality and historical accuracy.
Well, not only did I enjoy Sources of Light, but I will be highly recommending it, and it has left me with a little bit of a let down, not knowing how I can find something next that will measure up.
Set in 1962, Jackson, Mississippi, Sam and her mother are freshly transplanted there after her father's death in Vietnam. While Sam wants to fit in, her mother, who teaches art at the local college doesn't have any intention of blending in, and garners some attention when she speaks at a black institution. Sam and her mother start to receive threatening phone calls, their mailbox is set on fire, and several other warnings are sent to them to try and reign in their desire to help the civil rights movement. Perry, another professor at the college becomes a friend of theirs (eventually dating Sam's mom), and introduces Sam to photography. With her camera from Perry Sam is able to capture Mississippi at its best - and its worst. This is something that most people in Jackson aren't willing to accept or acknowledge at this point. Perry is also someone who wants to help blacks escape the racism they experience, and while he knows it's danger, he is unable to live his life as a bystander, allowing this to go on.
Eventually Sam gives up on trying to fit in with the popular crowd, no longer caring what Mary Alice McLemore wears or what she says. Stone McLemore, Mary Alice's older brother, asks Sam to the school dance, and the two begin a romance impeded by the Klan activities of Stone's father.
This book was absolutely perfect. From the bomb shelter that Mary Alice's family constructed to the Tang served at breakfast, to the space race, and mention of Kennedy's worries over Castro, Sources of Light is a flashback of America in 1962. McMullan captures what life in Jackson was like in the 60s and the small ways in which ordinary people helped create change. Perry's talent at photography helped communicate so much about life in Mississippi, showing in black and white how life continued.
And this book broke my heart and gave me hope - all at the same time. I rarely re-read, but this is one I would happily read again, giving me a chance to find snippets I had not yet had time to think about and appreciate.
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