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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
In John W. Bebout's The Light from Darkness, we meet seventeen-year-old Teddy Miller in Great Tortugas, off the Florida Keys. It’s 1864, during the waning months of the Civil War, and this desolate island is the location of a Yankee prison. Teddy has gone there because his father is imprisoned, all the way from their home in the Shenandoah Valley. He finds out his dad has died of dysentery. Now he must find his way home, a journey that will take him over land and sea, northward from key to key, to a blockade-running ship near Wilmington, North Carolina, then overland from Goldsboro, N.C. to Belfield, Lawrenceville, Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, and finally New Market, Virginia. Along the way, he witnesses kindness and brutality and sees the best and worst of humanity. Back home, he searches for the woman he loves and meets his karma from the time of his younger days with his dad and brother. Here the plot changes from a road motif to a legal one, involving the intricacies of mid-nineteenth-century Virginia law.
Teddy tells his own story (first person) so we know from the beginning that he survives his trials and errors, but the path is filled with excitement. You will keep turning the pages of Bebout’s airy prose, which flows as smoothly as a Virginia breeze. I was wowed with the author’s knowledge of sailing vessels and the sea. Also, the clarity of the narration and the depths of the emotions, particularly the purity of Teddy's intentions and his compassion for the people he meets along the way, and the extraordinary help he is given by strangers. Though the setting of the novel is the Civil War, it is not about specific battles. Teddy passes close to Appomattox just after Lee’s surrender and meets refugee rebels on their way to find their own homes. Bebout has nailed the setting and the sound of Southern voices, and the narrative is unambiguous until Teddy is forced to battle the legal system due to his past actions. He arrives at his family farm to discover he is a wanted man. Each chapter is headed by a quotation—from Homer to Shakespeare to Margaret Mitchell to Bob Marley, and I particularly enjoyed matching the wise words to the narrative. The title The Light from Darkness may give you a hint of the general movement of the novel. Thank you, John W. Bebout, for some unforgettable characters and their struggles from the darkness to the light.