Paige Dunn is smart, beautiful, loving, and, not incidentally, paralyzed from the neck down. Stricken with polio in the 1950s, she gave birth to her daughter, Diana, in an iron lung, and shortly afterward, her husband left her.

Paige is as honest with herself as others, and if such a terrible thing were ever to happen to you, she would be the kind of person you would want to become. She's a memorable character in award-winning author Elizabeth Berg's We Are All Welcome Here, but not the only one. Diana, the 13-year-old center of the story, yanked about by hormones, and Peacie, their black practical nurse and housekeeper, along with Peacie's boyfriend LaRue, all help deliver a quietly keyed story reminiscent in places of To Kill a Mockingbird. It's a delicate, thoughtful tale of the growing up of a sensitive young girl in the Freedom Summer of 1964 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Diana yearns for release from her world, and writes to movie stars, letting them know that I, too, was an actress and also a playwright, just in case they might be looking for someone. A couple of unlikely things happen in the course of the story, but even a modest deus ex machina incident at the end does not spoil the reader's enjoyment of this forthright, sometimes slyly amusing novel.

Creating a book based on a reader's suggestion, no matter how loosely, is something of a no-no for writers, but in her 15th novel Berg has the self-confidence to take someone else's idea and run with it, in this case a reader's true story of growing up with a polio-crippled mother. Some authors, with all those novels behind them, plus a couple of other books, would have burned out by this time, but Berg still manages to toss off an image like this: our skies were inky black and so thick with stars it felt as though somebody ought to stir them. Gems like that can't help but make you look forward to her 16th novel. Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.

comments powered by Disqus