Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet (2015)
Jennine Capó Crucet’s impressive first novel follows her debut short story collection (How to Leave Hialeah, 2009) and is sure to become a Miami classic. The narrator, Lizet, is Cuban-American and the first in her family to graduate from high school. When she leaves to attend an elite college, she grapples with the challenges of feeling othered (when she tells people she’s from Miami they say yeah, but where are you from?), living far from home, and the guilt of leaving her family behind. Adding to the tension is the fact that her parents are recently divorced and Ariel Hernandez (a fictionalized Elián González) arrives in Miami from Cuba and throws Lizet's city and her mother into the spotlight. Crucet captures a very particular time in history with spot-on details, humor, and the honesty of someone who's lived it.
Miami by Joan Didion (1987)
Despite what the title suggests, Miami is not just about our beloved city. It’s about immigration, exile, politics, conspiracies, and violence. When the book was published in 1987, Miami was in disarray, often referred to as the crime capital of the country by reporters. Didion forgoes the banana fishing, the corpses, and the drug dealers and instead focuses on the city’s Cuban exiles (a community she refers to as el exilo) and turns out a complex portrait of Miami’s Cuban community and the often shady involvement of Washington and it's policy makers.
Learning to Die in Miami by Carlos Eire (2010)
A poignant memoir from the same author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire chronicles his youth in Miami, which begins in a refugee camp for Cuban children on the edge of the Florida Everglades. Essentially an orphan, he is quick to love the U.S., to delight in little things like cereal boxes and garbage disposals. It’s not all perfect, though, and he and his brother are soon moved to a foster home run by a sour Cuban couple who call them demasiado fino. The book is both a killing of the past, a celebration of renewal, and a truthful account of what it means to be an immigrant.
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber (2011)
If ever there was a book that lived and breathed Miami, this is it. From the perfectly manicured Coral Gables to the seedy, dirty underbelly of Miami Beach and everything in between, Diana Abu-Jaber manages to capture the weirdness and the beauty of Miami with lush prose. At the center is a broken couple, their son neglected yet successful, their daughter Felice a long time runaway who lives on the streets of Miami Beach. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, with Felice’s being the most engaging and luminous. It’s a story about family and a city that is at once beautiful, dangerous, decrepit, and grand, but ultimately loved with a fierce passion.
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (1992)
OK, so this one isn’t entirely set in Miami — parts are in West Palm Beach — but it more than makes up for it by being adapted into the film Jackie Brown (1997) by Quentin Tarantino. (And if you haven’t seen that, do yourself a favor and watch it now.) The novel follows Jackie Burke, a 44-year-old airline stewardess who brings cash into the U.S. for Ordell Robbie, a gunrunner. When the cops try to use her to get at Ordell, she takes matters into her own hands like the badass she is.
15 Views of Miami edited by Jaquira Díaz (2014)
This collection of essayists, fiction writers, and poets, both established and emerging, is a great way to sink your teeth into the different sides of Miami. Edited by Jaquira Díaz, a Miami native, it includes authors such as Susanna Daniel, Jennine Capó Crucet, Patricia Engel, and M. Evelina Galang. Each entry not only has a title, but also a specific place it's focused on — Wynwood, Allapattah, Hialeah, I-95, and so much more.
Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (2011)
In the debut novel from Susanna Daniel, Atlanta native Frances Ellerby accepts an invitation to visit Stiltsville, a decision that changes her life forever. She meets Dennis at one of the houses built on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay and they fall in love and forge a life in this odd corner of Miami. The book follows them through the late 60s to the 1990s, through love and infidelity, cocaine wars and hurricanes, racial tensions and illness.