Since Margaret McMullan will be featured on August 22 at the Mississippi Book Festival (http://msbookfestival.com) , our de Grummond Book Group chose her Sources of Light for our July selection. I approach books set in Mississippi during 1962-63 with trepidation. Too often, I find one dimensional characters – both black and white – populating the books. I did have some hope since I’d had positive past experiences with Margaret’s books and her Mississippi heritage. (How I Found the Strong, When I Crossed the No-Bob, and In My Mother’s House)
The book opens with Samantha (Sam) and her mother coming back as she enters ninth grade to her father’s native Mississippi after his heroic death in Vietnam. I knew Margaret’s characters would ring true when Samantha met her teacher. “The first day and every day afterward, Miss Jenkins wore a dark blue dress and stockings that sagged, the seams in the back growing crooked by noon.” I recognized this teacher, but I called her “Miss Hicks.”
Sam moves into a world she does not know as racial tensions of the Civil Rights Movement are coming to a head. Even her lack of awareness rings true since military kids, in a multicultural world of their own, often pay small attention to news that doesn’t seem to concern them. She sees this new world through the lens of a camera given to her by her mother’s boy friend and hears the sounds of love, persuasion, arguments, and anger against the background of an unceasing whistling hum of summer cicadas.
The book is not a comfortable read, but it rings true as characters with complications either try to prevent or try to find their way in the new order that is coming in Mississippi. Sam becomes torn herself in her relationship with boyfriend Scout, wondering just how far she can trust him.
Like Deborah Wiles in Countdown and Revolution, Margaret’s Southern characters are complicated juxtaposing things like their admiration for Sam’s father’s heroism alongside their racism. This young adult book is well worth the read even if you no longer fit the young adult category – but not if you’re looking for something light and fluffy.