Book Review: 'Birds Of Paradise'

Birds of Paradise is a new novel by Diana Abu-Jaber. It depicts the complicated life of a family in Miami whose daughter runs away at 15.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Miami is often used as a backdrop for crime fiction, with larger than life characters holding court in glitzy bars and back rooms. But author Diana Abu-Jaber's new novel, "Birds of Paradise," offers a very different, no less dramatic, view of Miami life.

Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: There's what the psychologists define as an at risk kid in Diana Abu-Jaber's "Birds of Paradise." Felice, an attractive girl from a middle class Miami family, becomes a runaway at 13, living on the beaches and in various down and out nooks and crannies of an otherwise upscale city. Mom makes fancy pastries for local gourmands while Dad works as a lawyer for a successful, if somewhat shady, developer.

When Felice takes off, the family goes into what the novelist calls a state of hibernation and it only comes to life again as Felice nears her 18th birthday. The novel itself swells with life and style, with the stark contrast of the delicacy of fancy pastries and the down and dirty life on the beach. Through all this, mother and daughter hold their heads up valiantly, if separately, while Dad goes into a temporary nose dive.

The book gives us an obligatory hurricane scene that appears to be a convention of Miami fiction. The real storm whips up in the hearts of these affecting characters.

BLOCK: The book is "Birds of Paradise" by Diana Abu-Jaber. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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