LIGHT COMES TO SHADOW MOUNTAIN, by Toni Buzzeo, Holiday House, July 11, 2023, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 8-12)
A girl is determined to bring electricity to her Appalachian community in Light Comes to Shadow Mountain, a historical fiction novel by Toni Buzzeo.
It’s 1937 and the government is pushing to bring electricity to the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. It’s all Cora can think of; radios with news from around the world, machines that keep food cold, lightbulbs by which to read at night! Cora figures she can help spread the word by starting a school newspaper and convincing her neighbors to support the Rural Electrification Act.
But resistance to change isn’t easy to overcome, especially when it starts at home. Cora’s mother is a fierce opponent of electrification. She argues that protecting the landscape of the holler—the trees, the streams, the land that provides for their way of life—is their responsibility. But Cora just can’t let go of wanting more.
Back matter includes an Author’s Note; further information on the Rural Electrification Act, the herbs and plants of Appalachia, the Pack Horse Library Project, and more; and a “Quick Questions” historical trivia section for readers. —Synopsis provided by Holiday House
Light Comes to Shadow Mountain is picture book author Toni Buzzeo’s debut middle-grade novel, but it doesn’t read like one. Buzzeo, a former elementary school librarian, captures the time, place and characters with heartfelt grace.
The story unfolds from Cora’s point of view. Cora dreams of life beyond her home. She dreams of high school and college. She dreams of the modern marvels people in the city enjoy. Marvels like electricity and the lights and machines it powers.
Cora is bright and driven. She looks forward to change while her mother fears it. These opposing views drive Buzzeo’s story forward, forcing Cora — and readers — to consider the pros and cons of progress. Both Cora and her mother are well conceived, as are Buzzeo’s supporting characters.
Light Comes to Shadow Mountain is a fascinating historical fiction read. Buzzeo has clearly done her research when it comes to the rollout of electricity in rural America. It’s a compelling backdrop on which her story of family, friendship and loss are explored. Many a daughter will relate to the mother/daughter dynamic that plays out here.
*Light Comes to Shadow Mountain is a Cybils-nominated book. This review is my opinion and not the opinion of the middle-grade fiction panel as a whole.
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