Reviews for Sources of Light

Booklist Reviews 2010 April #2
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. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2010 April
Finding the good

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 is a librarian at the University of Richmond.

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
It's 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi. Samantha is dealing with her soldier father's death, while her mother gets involved in the civil rights movement. This rich tapestry is the backdrop to an eventful year in Sam's life, a year in which she faces death and hate and love. The pace of the novel is quick, and Sam's emotional narration is sure and intimate. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #3
Samantha, dealing with her soldier father's death in a helicopter crash, wants to honor his last wish. He exhorted her to "always do the right thing," but 1962 is a complicated time, especially in Jackson, Mississippi, and it's not always clear what the right thing is. Sam's mother is a college professor who decides the right thing to do is to get involved with the civil rights movement. Perry Walker, her mother's new boyfriend, photographs sit-ins and protests for national magazines. Stone, Sam's first boyfriend, sees the world through his father's lens: he believes that the civil unrest is a Communist plot and that his role is to protect Southern girls and women. This rich tapestry is the backdrop to an eventful year in Sam's life, a year in which she faces death and hate and love. The pace of the novel is quick, and Sam's emotional narration is sure and intimate, allowing readers to understand her reluctance to see the truth about Stone's family. While the story's resolution relies heavily on coincidence, and several incidents will stretch readers' credulity, they 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. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 March #2
When 14-year-old Samantha Thomas moves to Jackson, Miss., in 1962, following her father's death in Vietnam, she learns about love and hate all in the same year. Her mother meets Perry Walker, a photographer who teaches Sam about taking photographs and seeing the world in new ways, but what she begins seeing and pondering is the racial situation in Jackson--lunch-counter sit-ins, voter-registration protests and the violent reprisals of many in the white community, including the father of the boy she begins to like. 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. A pivotal scene in the Petrified Forest relies too much on coincidence and an improbable sequence of events, but overall 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. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 April #1

This historical novel set in 1962 Mississippi spotlights the tensions of the early civil rights movement through the evolution of 14-year-old Sam, a former army brat transplanted to her recently deceased father's home state when her mother accepts a teaching job at the local college. McMullan (Cashay) effectively captures the Southern setting and frames Sam's conflict between belonging and doing the right thing in the face of racial prejudice. "I just wanted to fit into this place just as we had fit in to all the other towns we had lived in... do whatever it was we were supposed to do, let whatever was supposed to happen happen." Sam's pivotal relationships with her family's maid, feisty grandmother, and love interest, Stone, whose family staunchly advocates white supremacy, force her to define her own beliefs. And her interest in photography, inspired by her mother's activist boyfriend, helps her focus on this society in transition, as she documents lunch counter protests and develops shocking film after a murder. It's a high stakes novel that powerfully portrays the bravery and loss of a tumultuous time. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)

[Page 61]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2010 May

Gr 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

[Page 120]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

VOYA Reviews 2010 August
The year 1962 proves to be very turbulent for fourteen-year-old Samantha Thomas. It was only a year earlier that her father died in Vietnam, and now, because her mother has taken a teaching position at a college in Jackson, Mississippi, she has to move across the country. Once there, Sam becomes immediately aware of the vast cultural differences between the North and the South; whereas she only wants to fit in, her mom seems intent upon ruffling feathers. The situation deteriorates when her mother begins seeing Perry, a colleague and freelance photographer who has very liberal, "Yankee" views on the war, segregation, and a "colored's" right to vote. For a school project, Perry gives Sam a camera, and as she becomes more enamored with it, she also inadvertently finds herself in the midst of an escalating racial conflict over civil rightsMany events from this engaging story are drawn from McMullan's own childhood in the Deep South during the tumultuous 1960s. Although the first fifty pages or so of the story are a little slow, the complexity of the story line eventually reveals itself and makes for one terrific read. 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 (Lippincott, 1960) feel about it and will evoke many fond memories from that time period.--Judy Brink-Drescher 4Q 3P J S Copyright 2010 Voya Reviews.