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On a freshly poured sidewalk in Los Angeles in 1918, 12-year-old Iris LaPelle inscribes a prayer for her father’s safe return from World War I.

McLaughlin uses the humblest, most overlooked element of a city’s infrastructure–a sidewalk–as a leitmotif to weave together five stories spanning 81 years, from 1918 to the eve of the millennium. As the sidewalk serves year after year “in utter obscurity….stood on, spat on, biked, skated, and scootered on,” Iris’ inscription endures. Her words capture the imaginations of the main characters in each subsequent story, who wonder, as they deal with turmoil in their lives, whether Iris’ prayer was answered. First, a character named Meg leaves her cheating fiancé at the height of the Depression and learns to stand on her own two feet. During World War II, Audrey worries about high school friends fighting overseas as she struggles to overcome the effects of polio and pursue a college education. In 1969, as Sandra learns to navigate high school and boys, she eases her grief over her father’s death by showing compassion to others, as he taught her. Thirty years later, after Muriel meets and is tacitly forgiven by an old flame she had snubbed, she opens her heart to forgive the woman with whom her husband ran off. McLaughlin puts these girls and women in the context of their times, but the theme each one faces is similar: balancing a challenging situation with crafting a meaningful life for herself. In keeping with the “symphony” in the book’s title, the sidewalk functions as a musical staff on which each character provides the notes to interconnected movements. Iris is the unifying key, hovering like an unseen spirit in each story, glimpsed from afar or in a tantalizingly brief exchange. The layering of story upon story is deftly handled, as is, with the sole exception of a black servant’s overdone Southern accent, the dialogue and character development in each segment.

A heartwarming novel that will resonate with readers.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-44257-5022-0
Program: Kirkus Indie
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