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South of Broad    by Pat Conroy order for
South of Broad
by Pat Conroy
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Joan Burton

South of Broad takes place over a twenty year time span, from the sixties to the eighties. The title refers to the wealthy citizens of Charleston, South Carolina who live in mansions south of Broad Street. The story touches on family secrets, racism, suicide, and forbidden love, just to name a few of the events covered. The voice we hear narrating the story is that of eighteen year old Leopold Bloom King.

Leo is trying to recover from the death of his older brother Steve. His father is a well liked science teacher and his mother, an ex-nun, is now a principal. Leo's mother is controlling and distant. Steve's death has shocked the family, and Leo has battled depression, at times being hospitalized.

Now in 1969, Leo decides he is going to gain control of his life and start over. With no friends to speak of, he quickly befriends a group of high school teens, each one different from the next. Ike (the black son of the high school football coach) is wary of getting close to a white man. Niles and Starla Whitehead are new to Charleston, and Leo's mother gives him the task of showing them around town and also the school. Beautiful Molly Huger, her boyfriend Chad Rutledge, and his tomboy sister Fraser, are all from Charleston's elite families. The Poe twins (Sheba and Trevor) move in across the street from Leo. They are running from their past, with their alcoholic mother, keeping a dark secret.

Their lives play out over the years. In 1989, Leo tries to save the twins from their father and the course of self destruction they are on. Trevor, a pianist, has AIDS, and has hidden out in the underbelly of San Francisco. All the friends fly cross country to find Trevor and bring him home and back to health. Sheba is a well known movie star. Heading for a breakdown, she learns to rely on her friends to keep her grounded. Some have happy marriages, others troubled. Some have career success and others failure. Leo himself has a troubled marriage but he is put to the test when he learns why his brother committed suicide so may years before.

The lives of the teens have all been interwoven over the years and now as adults Leo is at the center. South of Broad is a multi-faceted story moving from Charleston to San Francisco, all the while steeped in Southern tradition and old world charm.

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