Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole

Let It Shine book coverLet It Shine is a slim book, coming in at a little over 100 pages, but it doesn’t feel short. I mean that in the good way—it’s complex and substantive and I really enjoyed it.

Sofronia Wallis—Sofie for short—is a young black college student in Virginia during the heart of the Civil Rights movement in 1961. Cole does a fantastic job of painting a realistic and detailed picture of the movement with just a few spare details. She makes it personal. Sofie’s a good church-going girl who always does what she’s supposed to do. But she’s finding this role stifling: “…when people described her, they used words like nice and quiet and docile as if they spoke of the cows on Harris Withers’ farm instead of a young woman.” But that’s all about to change as she finds herself in the cause.

Ivan Friedman’s family escaped Europe just before WWII, although many of his extended family members did not survive the Holocaust. He’s in an odd position. The U.S. is still anti-Semitic in a lot of ways (though the book doesn’t go much into that), but he’s still white, which puts him in a better position than Sofie. In fact, when they were young, Sofie’s mother worked for his mother and he and Sofie were good friends who played together. That came to an abrupt end when the kids were twelve because Sofie’s mother suddenly died (of an aneurysm) while trying to save Ivan from some bullies.

They haven’t seen each other in the six years since then when they run into each other at a protestor’s organizing meeting (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, SNCC). When they meet, it’s clear that what used to be a childhood friendship has turned into a very adult attraction. But it’s not as if they can just start dating or even hanging out, as at at time such a relationship was not only socially frowned upon, it was actually illegal in the South until 1967 (there’s even an ugly word for it that I want to pretend I never learned).

However, this is a romance so you know they’re going to figure out a way. But it sure isn’t going to be easy, and neither will be the individual paths they choose. All of which makes for a very engaging read.

If you want a good book with a few bites of heat set in a period you rarely see in romance novels, this one’s definitely for you.