Diana Abu-Jaber’s latest novel is a family drama centered on a teen runaway. Abu-Jaber is known for exceptional writing and strong settings — in this case, Miami. Teen readers will be drawn in by the mystery surrounding the reasons behind Felice’s decision to run away.
A review in the September issues of Elle emphasizes the teen character: “Felice’s convincing mixture of toughness and vulnerability, of adolescent stubbornness and deep moral conflict, of extraordinary beauty and punishing world-weariness makes you root for the runaway despite all the pain she’s caused. She’s the bird of paradise that makes this novel soar.”
I found the personal connection, revealed on the author’s website, particularly compelling: “At its core, BIRDS OF PARADISE is the story of a runaway daughter, Felice, and the effect of her absence on her mother, father, and brother. It illuminates the silent crosscurrents of guilt, anger, blame, and grief that can plague a family, and it will resonate with all those who have sought adolescent independence and then yearned to reconnect with their families once they are grown up. Abu-Jaber writes with authority on the hot-button subject of teenage runaways and the impact on the people they leave behind, as she herself left home at fifteen—not to spend her time modeling tattoos, clubbing, and scrounging for food on Miami Beach like Felice, but to gain independence from her strict Jordanian father.”
Adult/High School–At 13, Felice Muir seemed like a normal teenage girl, albeit one who looks like a young Elizabeth Taylor, but she descends into depression and finally runs away from home; she can’t even think about the reasons why she fled. Five years later, on the eve of her 18th birthday, the family she left behind is in ruins: her mother, Avis, runs an exclusive pastry business but is losing focus, her father’s successful career as the in-house council for a real estate developer is seeming less worthwhile, and her older brother’s organic grocery store is about to lose its lease. Felice’s life on the streets–the squalid squat she lives in, the drugs, and the dangers presented by men trolling the clubs and boardwalks–contrasts to the comfortable life her parents have, and that she could have had if she hadn’t left home. She starts to think of settling down, possibly moving to Oregon with her semi-boyfriend, and to do that she needs money. Arriving at her brother’s store shortly before Hurricane Katrina hits Miami, she agrees to shelter there until the storm passes. She still won’t say why she left, but she does accept his invitation to stay indefinitely and even meets with her parents, starting the healing process for the family. The story is told by each of the characters (Avis’s chapters include commentary about her baking, which is truly mouth-watering, although recipes are not included) and teens who love multiple-perspective, well-crafted stories will enjoy getting to know the Muirs.–Laura Perle, Venn Consultants, Carmel, NY