Birds of Paradise

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

17 of 50
Birds of Paradise
362 pages; W. W. Norton & Company
The Southern Florida of Birds of Paradise (Norton) is a "temporary enchantment...people behave here in ways they never would back in Naperville and Houston and Scranton." Maybe, but the problems that beset Miami's Muir family in Diana Abu-Jaber's affecting novel are all too common: Teenage daughter Felice has run away from home; 20-something son Stanley has just shown up with a pregnant girlfriend, demanding money; parents Avis, a pastry chef, and Brian, a real estate attorney, are facing their own marital and financial problems. While the beautiful, haunted Felice is the heart of this novel—and her scenes in tattoo parlors, bars, and beaches the most compelling—Abu-Jaber makes us wonder about more than what will happen to one girl with a guilty secret. What, after all, does it mean to be a family? Is love really "exchangeable, malleable"? We can't help turning pages full of stunning prose to find out. 
— Sara Nelson