Sources of Light

It’s 1962, a year after the death of Sam’s father–he was a war hero–and Sam and her mother must move, along with their very liberal views, to Jackson, Mississippi, her father’s conservative hometown. Needless to say, they don’t quite fit in.

People like the McLemores fear that Sam, her mother, and her mother’s artist friend, Perry, are in the South to “agitate” and to shake up the dividing lines between black and white and blur it all to grey. As racial injustices ensue–sit-ins and run-ins with secret white supremacists–Sam learns to focus with her camera lens to bring forth the social injustice out of the darkness and into the light.


Available in paperback Spring 2012

An American Library Association 2011 Best Book for Young Adults

Winner The 2011 Best Book of Indiana, YA Category Children/Young Adult Category

Nominated for The National Book Award, Young Adult Fiction Division

An Indie Bound Children’s Book for Summer 2010

The Indie Next List: The “next great read” the “next best seller”

A Teen Book Selection for Dozens of Reading Programs Including:

  • The Chicago Public Library
  • Evansville, Indiana’s One Book/One Community
  • Columbus, Ohio Public Library
  • Ohio University Library

Evansville, Indiana’s 2010 One Book/One Community Youth Selection

Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association feature Sources of Light as part of their 2010 ENGAGE Summer Reading Program, which focuses on art and civic engagement.

Praise for Sources of Light

Though this fine volume easily stands by itself, McMullan links it with two previous works-- How I Found the Strong and When I Crossed No-Bob--and readers who read the first installments will feel that they are in the midst of an excellent historical saga...this offers a superb portrait of a place and time and a memorable character trying to make sense of a world both ugly and beautiful.

– Kirkus Reviews

She seamlessly blends fact and fiction and portrays this turbulent time in American history with candor and grace.

– BookPage

The pace of the novel is quick, and Sam's emotional narration is sure and intimate... [Readers] will appreciate the rich cast of characters and McMullan's depiction of the momentous, heart-breaking historical times.

– Horn Book

Make room on your library shelves for this one.

– School Library Journal

McMullan, a Mississippi native, makes her characters complex, confused, and sympathetic…In the end, readers will see the humanity of those on the wrong side of history, and may even feel compassion for them, too.

– Booklist

It's a high stakes novel that powerfully portrays the bravery and loss of a tumultuous time.

– Publisher’s Weekly

This book was absolutely perfect.

– Books are My Thing

McMullan's book has become a way for teachers to talk with students about the civil rights movement and about race.

– Clarion-Ledger

Among the virtues of this clear, luminous novel is its ability to present tumultuous historical events through the eyes and dawning sensibility of an intelligent young girl...infused with the rhythms and customs of its Southern setting, but no matter where you're from, you can enjoy it.

– The Chicago Tribune

Many events from this engaging story are drawn from McMullan's own childhood in the Deep South during the tumultuous 1960s…the story has a familiar To Kill a Mockingbird feel about it and will evoke many fond memories from that time period.

– Voya

Though this fine volume easily stands by itself, McMullan links it with two previous works-How I Found the Strong (2004) and When I Crossed No-Bob (2007)-and readers who read the first installments will feel that they are in the midst of an excellent historical saga...this offers a superb portrait of a place and time and a memorable character trying to make sense of a world both ugly and beautiful.

– Kirkus Reviews

Margaret McMullan returns to Mississippi and its history in the gripping Sources of Light. After her father's war-hero death in Vietnam, Samantha Thomas and her mother relocate to Jackson, Mississippi, near her father's hometown. While her mother teaches art history at the local college, Sam begins her freshman year of high school in 1962, simply wanting to fit in like the popular Mary Alice, eagerly awaiting her first dance with Mary Alice's older brother and hoping to fill out her new bra. After her mom's friend Perry gives her a camera and ongoing photography lessons, Sam begins to notice and document the racial tensions in Jackson: the violence that spurs from a lunch counter sit in and the deterioration of her community as energy is spent on the "black problem" rather than schools, houses and roads. The town deems Sam, her mother and Perry "agitators" when they take an interest in racial equality, including registering blacks to vote. When Sam's family is the target of threats and vandalism from a white supremacist group, they must decide whether to continue helping local African Americans. Adding to the dilemma is Sam's desire to keep her first boyfriend, even though he may be involved in the violence. A regular girl with bold ideas, Sam realizes that like her father, she is caught in the crossfire of war--and she wonders if she will come out a hero, too. Her keen observations on both adolescence and the racial divide will teach readers about the Civil Rights Movement and growing up in the early 1960s. Using photography as a metaphor, McMullan shows how Sam looks for the sources of light and good amidst the hatred that surrounds her. Inserting elements of her own childhood and even alluding to her previous Reconstruction novel When I Crossed No-Bob, she seamlessly blends fact and fiction and portrays this turbulent time in American history with candor and grace.

– Angela Leeper, BookPage

Angela Leeper is a librarian at the University of Richmond.

The pace of the novel is quick, and Sam's emotional narration is sure and intimate... [Readers] will appreciate the rich cast of characters (especially maid Willa Mae, photographer Perry, and Sam's wise grandmother) and McMullan's depiction of the momentous, heart-breaking historical times.

– Robin L. Smith, Horn Book

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. (Starred Review)

– Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY School Library Journal

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. 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.

– Courtney Jones, Booklist

Following her father's death in Vietnam, fourteen-year-old Samantha and her mother move to Jackson, Mississippi to be near her father's family. Mom has no sooner settled in to her position as an art history lecturer at a small college than her guest presentation at nearby Tougaloo College attracts the censure of white community members who are, in 1962, fighting civil rights tooth and nail. Perry Walker, a photographer who also teaches at Mom's college, seems to be drawing her into both activism and romance, neither of which Sam condones. Perry softens Sam's resistance, though, by lending her a camera and teaching her how to sharpen her power of observation through a lens, and soon Sam is capturing not only images of remarkable beauty but also the pervasive hatred that has gripped her new hometown. Sam develops a serious crush on Stone, the sixteen-year-old son of a respected - and bigoted - community leader. When Perry is beaten to death after a voter registration drive, Sam is tormented with the suspicion that Stone might have been involved, and it will take a roll of undeveloped film and an enormous act of courage to identify the perpetrators. Though the plethora of references to period events sometimes makes the book feel like a history lesson, they're apropos to the focus of the novel. McMullan is particularly adept at detailing the escalating pressure on Samantha and her mother to conform to racist standards: vandalism, "friendly" advice with an imbedded threat, a harassing traffic arrest, vicious Halloween "pranks." Fans of McMullan's previous titles will appreciate the continuity of family line with When I Crossed No-Bob, and they'll ponder the legacy of race relations three generations later.

– The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science

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. Read full review.

– Tina, Books-Are-My-Thing

McMullan's book has become a way for teachers to talk with students about the civil rights movement and about race. Read full review.

– Jerry Mitchell, Clarion Ledger, Jackson, MS

Among the virtues of this clear, luminous novel is its ability to present tumultuous historical events through the eyes and dawning sensibility of an intelligent young girl...infused with the rhythms and customs of its Southern setting, but no matter where you're from, you can enjoy it. Read full review.

– Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

Many events from this engaging story are drawn from McMullan's own childhood in the Deep South during the tumultuous 1960s...This book will most likely be embraced by girls who like to read and are willing to wait for the tale to unfold. As for the older set, the story has a familiar To Kill a Mockingbird feel about it and will evoke many fond memories from that time period.

– Judy Brink-Drescher, VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)