Monday, March 27, 2023

South Of Broad by Pat Conroy


It is the end of summer, 1969.  Leo King is about to start his senior year and today will be one of the most momentous of his life.  He meets the friends that will be in his life forever after.  Leo has had a rough childhood so far but he is determined to change that and make his mother, the high school principal, proud of him.  He doesn't worry about his father as he knows he has his love but his mother, an ex-nun, has such high expectations of him that he constantly fails to satisfy them.

He starts by going across the street and welcoming the newcomers to the neighborhood, one of Charleston, South Carolina's better ones.  Sheba and Trevor Poe are twins and will set the high school on fire with their outgoing personalities.  Both are beautiful.  Sheba wants to be an actress and does that after high school, becoming one of Hollywood's best known stars.  Trevor is gay and an accomplished musician.  

Integration has come to Charleston and this year is the first that a black coach will be heading up the football team.  Leo's mother sends him to meet Coach Jefferson and his son, Ike.  Leo and Ike will become co-captains of the football team and friends for life.  Leo has lunch at the country club where Chad and Fraser, children of one of Charleston's most renowned families, are meeting the principal of the school they will attend for their senior year after being kicked out of their private school.  Along with them comes Molly, another daughter of a socialite family who is following Chad to the school.  Leo isn't impressed with Chad or his family except for his sister Fraser.  He finds Molly beautiful but knows she is out of his league.

Finally, he goes to the orphanage where several new students are waiting.  When he meets Niles and Starla Whitehead, they are chained to a chair, as Niles will not let anyone near Starla.  Leo convinces the staff to unchain them and offers friendship and an introduction to the school to the siblings who have been orphaned since they were five and six and who grew up before that in the North Carolina mountains.  Another senior this year is a black girl named Betty, full of anger and determination.  

This group of individuals will be in each others' lives for the rest of time.  They pair off and marry and have parties and lunches and family occasions together.  Leo ends up as a journalist on the paper he used to be a paperboy for, while Ike and Betty become police officers and Niles becomes a teacher.  There is love and a determination to always be there for each other.  But it isn't all light and goodness.  There is betrayal, adulteries, parents getting older and needing care, mental illness and a psychopath who is determined to kill his children and the rest of the group.  There is the AIDS epidemic and hurricanes but through everything the group holds on to friendship and love.

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and he can spin a story like no other.  His stories are often about battered families and incredible hurts that somehow people rise above, searching and finding happiness and fulfillment.  His characters are totally believable and leave the reader wishing that they could be in this circle of friends.  I've had this book for years but I save Conroy's books so that I can savor them slowly over the years.  This one is wonderful as are everything I've read by him and I can't recommend him more highly.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships and a book that explains the South and its culture. 

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