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There's no better summer activity than lying on a beach with a good book. But while we’ve long counted on the Caribbean island of Barbados to supply the beach, it’s now proving itself pretty reliable in the book department, too.

In her debut, The Star Side of Bird Hill, Naomi Jackson takes us past the resorts and tourist traps and introduces us to the real Barbados, particularly a stubborn old woman named Hyacinth and her teenage granddaughters, Dionne and Phaedra.

For the girls, the island isn’t paradise; it’s exile. Their real home is Brooklyn, where they’ve lived for their whole lives with their single mother, Avril, a nurse who cares for AIDS patients. But when Avril suffers a nervous breakdown, they’re relegated to a summer of chores, their grandmother’s fish cakes and vacation Bible school with a bunch of kids in hand-sewn dresses. As Avril becomes more and more estranged, the girls don’t know whether to accept their new fate--and their generations-old community--or yearn for their mother to take them back home.

We’re always down for a good coming-of-age story, especially one set against a super-vibrant backdrop. Jackson was raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents, and it’s clear she knows these two communities like the back of her hand. If she needs an island-bound research assistant for her next novel, though, we’re definitely game.

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