‘Fireworks Over Toccoa'
By: Jeffrey Stepakoff
Rating: Five out of five bookmarks
I have, unfortunately, missed a valuable opportunity in this past year - twice. Earlier this summer, a local Atlanta author was doing a book signing for his new novel at the store where I work, and because I hadn't read the book yet, I passed up the chance to meet and talk to this author. This past weekend, I missed it yet again because I was unable to attend the Dahlonega Book Festival where this same author was present. So even though I can't tell the author himself, now at least I have the opportunity to encourage a few readers to pick up a sweet, sentimental story of star-crossed love, Jeffery Stepakoff's "Fireworks Over Toccoa."
In "Fireworks," we meet Lily Davis, an 80-year-old woman in the present who is recounting her life story to her granddaughter. During the aftermath of World War II in 1945, Lily is 20 years old and the daughter of high class, highly respected socialite parents. She lives in Toccoa, and she is constantly pressured to be a proper Southern belle and marry well.
Three years prior at age 17, she married sensible and straightforward Paul, but after two weeks of marriage he was shipped off to Europe to fight in the war.
As the American soldiers start to return home, Lily feels that there is something missing in her life, an emptiness that not even Paul's eminent return or her family's influence over her life can fix.
Then she meets Jake Russo, an Italian-American who has come to Toccoa to perform the grand fireworks display at the town's annual Fourth of July celebration.
Lily and Jake find kindred spirits in each other, opening up chambers of their hearts that they thought could never be touched. Lily is torn between duty and love, between a future that is expected of her and a future that she truly desires.
With Paul due to come home soon, will she choose the path that has been planned for her, or will she follow the path of her newly awakened heart?
This is Stepakoff's debut novel, although he has been a long-time writer for both film and television. We find out during the course of the story that Toccoa is a Cherokee word for "beautiful;" it is a perfectly appropriate word to describe Stepakoff's writing and his novel.
One can tell how much research and devotion was put into this book, and the research is woven so intricately yet subtly into the plot that the reader gets a very clear image of what the town of Toccoa was like over 50 years ago.
Even the minute details, like what elements go into Jake's fireworks to create their specific colors and designs, enhance the beauty that so much of this book has to offer.
The reader can view this as a mid-20th century Romeo and Juliet tale, the tragic kismet of two young lovers who, only knowing each other for a few days' time, find fulfillment within each other.
"Fireworks" presents a similar love story - two people from opposing sides (in this case, Jake is viewed as the enemy because of his Italian blood, since Italians were an Axis power in the war) who, even though both of them know they cannot be together, still give their love to each other entirely and unconditionally. Yet somehow, it works here.
Stepakoff breathes engaging personalities, histories and passions into Lily and Jake, making a love affair that only lasted for a few days sustain their hearts for a lifetime.
I always appreciate a writer who can make a reader feel just as inspired about his work as he felt composing it. Particularly for Georgia natives, "Fireworks Over Toccoa" will appeal to readers who love romance, local history or simply a touching parable of searching for your heart's home.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it.