Sources of Light: Publisher’s Weekly

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.