As the remnants of Hurricane Lee whipped the trees outside my bedroom window into a frenzy of whirling trunks and leaves, I pulled up the covers and opened my laptop to review Toni Buzzeo’s new middle grade novel, Light Comes to Shadow Mountain. Here I was, reviewing a historical novel about young Cora Mae Tipton, who aims to bring electricity to her rural Kentucky community, and my own electricity had just gone out.
Thankfully, my computer has a long-lasting battery, but not so Cora and the rest of her family and neighbors living in 1937, a time when electric lights and the benefits that come with them, like staying up late to study for the high-school entrance exams, are enjoyed only by city folks, like her cousin, Glenna.
To convince her neighbors to sign up for the new electricity cooperative Cora, aims to become a journalist, like her hero Nellie Bly, and starts a school newspaper. If she can enough people pay the sign-up fee, the utility company will install electric poles on the mountain. Cora’s father gets a job stringing electric wires and installing poles, but her mother refuses to support the new cooperative, wanting life on Shadow Mountain to remain unchanged.
When Cora walks home from school to find quiet, aloof Glenna sitting on her doorstep, she feels resentful, wondering why her cousin would want to live somewhere so rural. “Does she know how every single family member has chores from sunrise until sunset three hundred and sixty-five days a year?” Cora questions her mother. “All the washing and ironing and growing, and canning, and cooking food? Tending the animals and going herb gathering in the woods and cleaning and dusting and such? Does she remember we don’t even have electric lights to read that book of hers by after the sun goes down?”
Cora hopes electricity will free her from a life of work and drudgery. While her pregnant mother rests, she helps care for her twin brothers. She also misses her older sister, Ida, who died from the flu and whose shadow she lives in. Together Cora, her best friend, Ceilly, and Glenna team up to enlighten their community about the benefits of electricity while gaining a new appreciation for the special place they live.
Buzzeo, a New York Times bestselling children’s author with Maine roots whose picture books I have long read to my own children, skillfully introduces young readers to a world many might not recognize – one without the convivences that come with electricity. This well-written, enjoyable story reminded me of my own favorite childhood books featuring simpler times. But while those times may be long gone, the characters that inhabit those stories continue to live on, as will Cora Mae and her family, thanks to Buzzeo’s fine storytelling. And for just a few hours last weekend, before the electricity flashed back on, I got to enjoy them too.
Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, and of the Lantern Hill Farm picture book series, celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. She writes and reads in a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. Connect at: meadowrue.com