Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo (Pixel + Ink, July 2023) is a fictional middle grade novel centered around Cora May Tipton, a spirited and eager girl living in rural Kentucky during the Great Depression. Cora resides on Shadow Mountain, a considerable distance from the nearest town. Thanks to President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, particularly the Rural Electrification Act, the opportunity for electricity to reach areas like Cora’s. However, there is a major obstacle to overcome: Cora’s mother staunchly opposes electricity, fearing it will disrupt their cherished way of life.
Cora’s mother is a medicine woman who relies on the local flora for sustenance and the creation of medicinal remedies. She not only feeds her family but also helps the sick with her herbal knowledge, passed down through generations. Undeterred by her mother’s resistance, Cora, aspiring to be a journalist, takes it upon herself to create a newspaper to educate others about the benefits of electricity. To her surprise, some of her fellow mountain dwellers share concerns about the electrification project, fearing the displacement and disturbance of trees and wildlife.
Reading this book provides a fresh perspective on electricity and its potential impact on the rural lifestyle during the 1930s. It sheds light on the challenges faced by a poverty-stricken community and the hardships they endure to survive. Cora is an endearing character, as is her best friend. The book introduces us to a multitude of individuals in the community, each with their own struggles, hopes, and dreams.
While the main storyline explores the transformational effects of electrification, the novel also delves into themes of friendship, mother-daughter relationships, and the importance of serving and helping others. Another significant theme is learning about journalism as an unbiased pursuit rather than a platform for personal opinions. Personally, the most captivating aspect of the book is the evolving relationship between Cora and her mother. They both wrestle with grief as they grapple with the loss of Cora’s older sister, Ida, and their journey involves finding ways to reconnect and heal.
Light Comes to Shadow Mountain offers valuable insights into the distinctiveness of rural life and the profound changes brought about by electricity in isolated regions. It serves as an eye-opening account, but it is also a delightful and well-written middle grade novel. I wholeheartedly recommend this book, particularly for sharing with students to foster understanding of the disparities between rural and urban experiences and the transformative power of progress.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.