In this modern-day fairy tale set in the '60s, young Smoky O'Donnell is trapped in the airlessness of small-town Catholic family life when she's offered a job at Downtown, Atlanta's city magazine. She arrives in town Thanksgiving weekend. By Christmas she has learned how to drink and flirt at parties and is also dating handsome, rich Bradley Hunt III; by spring she's working with photographer extraordinaire Lucas Geary—another possible Prince Charming—exposing the living conditions of Atlanta's impoverished blacks. And she's been accepted by Baptist minister/freedom-fighter John Howard. Little wonder that when Smoky gets to meet Martin Luther King Jr., he knows her name and likes her work.
Downtown tells two stories—Smoky's discovery of her own civil liberties and what to do with them, and the South's attempt to reconcile its history of black oppression. Unfortunately, Siddons proves a more plausible historian than novelist. Smoky's rapid rise defies belief—unless readers know that it comes close to Siddons' own odyssey from collegiate journalist to best-selling author. (HarperCollins, $24)