The Year the Lights Came On

A Novel by Terry Kay
Afterword by William J. Scheick

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About the book

The Year the Lights Came On is Terry Kay’s evocative tale of Colin Wynn, an eleven-year-old boy growing up in rural northeast Georgia. The year is 1947, and in Colin’s hometown of Emery, Route 17 divides the community into the haves and the have-nots—those with and without electricity. This boundary creates a common bond among Colin and the other members of the Our Side Gang in their frequent confrontations with their affluent neighbors, the Highway 17 Gang. But then the Rural Electrification Administration brings electricity to the homes of the less privileged and Colin boasts that the wires will “knit us into the fabric of the huge glittering costume, Earth.”

Drawing upon his own memories of growing up in Royston, Georgia, Kay follows Colin, his brother Wesley, and their friends through fierce battles fought on the school playground, an exhilarating visit to the Brady Dasher Flying Circus, desperate attempts to throw a search party off the trail in the Black Pool Swamp, and gleeful celebrations when all-important baseball games are won. With characters ranging from Reverend Bartholomew R. Bytheway, a reformed fertilizer salesman who operates the Speaking-In-Tongues Traveling Tent Tabernacle, to Freeman, a Georgian Huck Finn who knows the swamp as well as the other boys know their backyards, Terry Kay draws a marvelously nuanced portrait of the rural South poised on the brink of change.

About the author

Terry Kay is the author of nine novels: The Year the Lights Came On (1976), After Eli (1981), Dark Thirty (1984), To Dance with the White Dog (1991), Shadow Song (1997), The Runaway (1998), The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene (1999), Taking Lottie Home (2000), and The Valley of Light (2003). He is also the author of one collection of short essays, Special Kay: The Wisdom of Terry Kay, and To Whom the Angels Spoke: A Story of the Christmas. In 2004 he was awarded both the Best Fiction Award from the Georgia Writers Association and the Townsend Prize for The Valley of Light. Kay, who was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2006, lives in Athens, Georgia.

For discussion

  1. The Year the Lights Came On has been used in some history classes as supplemental reading in the study of the post World War II period. Why?
  3. In the closing of the book, the author contends that the coming of electricity to rural farms changed the way people lived. What does he mean by this?
  5. All stories have contrast in them—good and evil, for example. What element in The Year the Lights Came On represents this contrast?
  7. In the relationship between Colin and Megan, what is the greatest dilemma for Colin?
  9. What does Freeman Boyd’s character represent in the story?
  11. What was the Big Gully Oath and what did it mean?
  13. How did Dover and the Our Gang boys confuse the bloodhounds in the search for Freeman Boyd?
  15. Who was Granny Woman and how old was she?
  17. What great talent did Alvin Bond possess?
  19. What caused the fight on the playground, and what was Wesley’s answer to Mr. Hollister?
  21. What does the REA mean, both literally and in terms of the changes it brought to rural America?