An Ethiopian necklace dangles near her waist as she strides gracefully through a small Harlem banquet hall one rainy late June evening. Ilyasah Shabazz is tall, nearly six feet, and as poised as the fashion model she once tried to be. Her face seems familiar. The resemblance to her father is striking. Especially when she smiles, it is the face of Malcolm X.

Shabazz, 39, the third of Malcolm's six daughters, graciously shakes the hands of her excited Red Cross hosts, who've thrown this small event to honor her for community service. There's a buffet simmering in a corner of the hall, Bianca's on the Park. And across the empty dance floor, beneath a huge chandelier, a languid sextet grinds out jazz standards. Shabazz joins the head table. Her youngest sister, Malaak Shabazz, already is seated there, with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

Davis and Dee have been honorary aunt and uncle to the six Shabazz girls since Malcolm's assassination in 1965 left them fatherless and their mother, Betty Shabazz, in fear of both J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam. But Betty is gone now too. Her death came in a more recent family tragedy, in 1997, that left the Shabazz girls more dependent on each other than ever, and on people like Davis and Dee. Ilyasah (pronounced Ill-YAH-sah) plants a kiss on the cheek for each of them, then slides her chair closer to her sister. They settle into chuckles and whispers. Malaak smooths Ilyasah's long hair. She pats her on the knee.

Though Shabazz is receiving an honor this night, it is, as always, another event at which she will stand before a crowd and be judged. That's the way it goes. She knows that people are always assessing her, measuring her, comparing her to her father or what they expect a Malcolm X daughter to be. With the May publication of her book "Growing Up X," Shabazz has offered her own answer: A daughter of Malcolm X isn't at all what you'd expect.

She has become the only one of the daughters of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz to open a window onto the cocooned, even mysterious life of a family forced to navigate the aftermath of assassination and forced to live with and shape the legacy of Malcolm X.

She describes her book as a "coming-of-age memoir." It is not a tell-all book intended to answer lingering questions about her father and his death, of which there are many. Instead, the book is a personal story of the life of this woman who was 2 at the time her father died.

But as a chronicle of the life of one of the nation's most embattled families, "Growing Up X" is stunning in its attention to mundane detail rather than sweeping social themes, for Ilyasah Shabazz has lived a rather apolitical and non-activist life. Since her mother's death, Shabazz has emerged as more of a public persona than before. She is leading the family effort to gather the Malcolm X papers, which were in the news earlier this year, when some of his original, personal writings were nearly auctioned off. She traveled in Bill Clinton's delegation during his state visit to South Africa in 1998.

In fact, what her book reveals about the Shabazz sisters will perhaps surprise those who hold stereotypical ideas of how the children of an incendiary human rights campaigner would have been reared. Shabazz has battled those expectations nearly all her life, and even on this night, at Bianca's, she gets hit with them again.

Ossie Davis, who long ago had poetically eulogized Malcolm X as "our living black manhood," now is up at the podium introducing his daughter.

"Those of us who knew her father at all knew that certainly he was a master not only of the spoken word but the written word as well. So we already know what to expect from Ilyasah," Davis says.

Unfazed, not all stomachachy like she'd get when she was younger and faced such daunting words, Shabazz offers her thanks to Davis and Dee for being "very close to my parents when it wasn't really fashionable. And both Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were among those friends who helped my mother after my father was assassinated in contributing to the down payment on our home."

Then she briefly thanks the Red Cross, and she's out of the spotlight and heaving a sigh of relief. Public speaking never has been easy for her.

Back at her table, though, a woman named Hazel Smith grabs a seat next to Shabazz and looks her dead in the eye. The two have met before, though only as acquaintances. Still, as the outgoing editor of the New York Beacon, a black-oriented weekly newspaper, Smith claims some familiarity with Shabazz after years of writing about her family. Like so many others, Smith has great expectations.

"It's your time," Smith tells Shabazz melodramatically. "I want to see what you're going to do. I'm waiting. I'm watching."

Shabazz just nods her head. She appreciates it and accepts the advice in the "motherly" spirit she assumes it is given. But she's heard this kind of thing before.

Rejecting Expectations Who'd have thought a daughter of Malcolm X, the advocate of black self-improvement who at one time eschewed racial integration as a sham, would attend predominantly white private schools (albeit with tutoring in Arabic and the Koran on the side)? Idyllic romps with friends in the families of actor Sidney Poitier and singer Nina Simone are understandable. But summer camp in Pittsford, Vt.? There were no black people in sight. At a town parade one summer, someone reached out from behind her in the crowd, rubbed her hair and reported with surprise, "It's soft." She recounts this incident in her book, but otherwise enjoyed those days at Camp Betsy Cox.

Who'd have thought she'd grow up in those socially conservative and somewhat elitist black social clubs, Jack and Jill as well as the Links? She is a Muslim who also hung out, in her youth, on the pro basketball party circuit.

"Some people are, like, 'Oh, she wasn't raised like the daughter of a black militant activist!' " Shabazz says over lunch.

"Well, how was she supposed to be [raised]? Who's to say? How can you determine how this person should be raised? I am the daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Shabazz, and they did raise me the way they intended -- well, without my father being there. But my mother raised me just as she would want."

She sounds defensive. She says she is not. Though she's all grown up now, holder of a master's degree, a director of public affairs for the city of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and newly married, hers has been a lifelong quest to discover and position her own identity vis-a{grv}-vis her father's huge legacy.

It is one thing to remember the father who would scoop her up when he returned home from work and plunk down in front of the TV news with oatmeal cookies and his baby girls. But she's not even sure that's her own memory rather than something she's heard so many times in the family.

It is another thing to come to grips with Malcolm X the icon and to confront a public never short on ideas on what and who an X daughter should be. Even to this extent: During the filming of Spike Lee's movie "Malcolm X," she says, Lee told Shabazz he didn't think Malcolm would be pleased with her straightened hair.

When she entered the State University of New York at New Paltz, she couldn't just be a 16-year-old student; she had to be a symbol, even though she'd arrived clueless about who she was.

So clueless, in fact, that she was not certain if a sexual experience when she was younger actually was a rape. She now knows it was. But at the time it sent her into such shock she wasn't sure just what had happened. And she didn't tell.

Though her father had been slain in her presence, Shabazz did not grow up feeling especially paranoid. She'd had warnings from her mother to be careful and vigilant, and her mother struggled to keep her sheltered from life's unpleasantness.

So she was taken aback at New Paltz when her fellow black students marched to her dorm to welcome Malcolm X's daughter, to move her into the "black dorm" and to co-opt her for their black student causes. She went along, not knowing what else to do.

"I was a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. . . . My people wanted me. I smiled and tumbled along," she writes. But of course people seemed forever skeptical of who she really was. This perky new girl in a ponytail didn't fit their expectations of an X child. She writes that she felt like getting a special ID card to prove that Malcolm X really was her father.

Betty Shabazz cocooned her daughters to such an extent that Ilyasah had to take a college course to understand the fiery-hot social and political context of her father's life. Shabazz did not wish to speak of those issues, Ilyasah says.

"My mother always talked about our father, her husband, but she didn't talk about J. Edgar Hoover," Ilyasah says. "She didn't talk about racism. She didn't talk about these things that defined my father as the icon."

The Honored Guest Shabazz doubles over with laughter when she describes the chronic intestinal spasms, diagnosed by a doctor, that hit her each time she had to make a public speech. Well, she didn't have to make these speeches, but she felt she should. "I just felt it was the least I could do for my father," she says.

The first time it happened, she'd traveled from New Paltz to speak at Purdue University in Indiana. But she was getting into an event far larger than she'd expected.

"When I got to the university, oh my gosh. I saw all these huge banners."

Quietly, she mimics a roaring crowd as she remembers the banners: " 'Malcolm X's Daughter!' 'Welcome Ilyasah Shabazz, Daughter of Malcolm X!' "

"And I'm thinking, 'Aaarrgh.' They made it seem as though I was coming to answer their questions and deliver them. . . . I knew I wasn't what they expected. They expected a revolutionary, someone emotional, and I was very much just a young woman who had been sheltered, who had gone to private schools."

Now she's truly cracking up, remembering what she saw as she walked out onstage and how knotted her insides felt.

"The auditorium was completely packed. There was no standing room. And when I started speaking, people would slowly get up and leave."

She had failed to inspire, as she knew she would.

"Embarrassed? I think I felt ashamed. I felt like I was doing my father an injustice."

The expectations were not just the world's, but her own.

"I started off being a math major. What was I going to do? I don't know, but I knew I loved math. Then I changed it. Then I was going to be a doctor, a pediatrician. And the reason was because I knew I had to do something important. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be a pediatrician, or a lawyer. . . . [It was] because I thought that my father was so important -- there was something very huge [about] the magnitude of Malcolm X -- and I knew that because of that I had to do something huge as well."

Her searching was cut short in 1984. She was driving when she was tired, and her car slammed into a tree and tumbled down an embankment. Her three passengers, good friends with whom she'd been out partying, were seriously injured. One was permanently paralyzed. Shabazz was comatose for three days and remained hospitalized for nearly two months.

She has grappled, and grapples still, with her emotions over the outcome for her paralyzed friend, which she describes in her book simply as "devastating." And both women, she says, have grappled with the fact that any of them survived the crash at all.

After recovering and deciding which direction to take, Ilyasah earned a master's degree in education and human resource development.

A Daughter's Love "Growing Up X" offers no new details on Malcolm X, the public figure, nor does it reveal any deep secrets about the Shabazz clan. That is not what Shabazz set out to do. Along the way, though, she does offer a strong defense of her father's life and teachings.

Citing his work to build the Nation of Islam and spread its word, she writes, "The Nation did not make Malcolm X. Malcolm X made the Nation." It has especially irritated her over the years, she writes, to hear Louis Farrakhan, the current Nation leader, taking credit for developments that were her father's creations.

She also takes issue with the widespread belief of a Malcolm X-vs.-Martin Luther King Jr. dichotomy. They fought the same fight, she writes, albeit with different tactics.

"Both were great men who did not hesitate to die because they loved us so," she writes.

And each man's family -- both the widows and the now-grown children -- grew to be close.

She has not lived in agony over who really killed her father, beyond being convinced that it was an axis of the "FBI, CIA and Nation of Islam." And though she does not live in fear, she lives, it seems, with a healthy sense of caution -- caution that prompts her to keep some topics of conversation off-limits, including information about the mosques she attends, her husband, her home.

Caution, privacy and a wall of protective silence were key attributes that got the Shabazz family through the crisis of 1965 -- extreme caution during a period when it seemed possible that another attack could come.

More than anything, "Growing Up X" (written with author and former journalist Kim McLarin) is a homage to Betty Shabazz for ensuring the safety of Ilyasah and her sisters, Attallah, Qubilah, Gamilah, Malikah and Malaak.

"Mommy did a heroic job of attending not only to our physical and material needs, but to our psychological ones as well," Ilyasah writes. "She worked for us and prayed for us. She fought for us and thought for us and sometimes spoke for us. She buffered us from life and pain as completely and as long as she could, and that was a long, long time, in my case."

Betty Shabazz did all this while earning first a master's degree, then a doctoral degree in education, with which she became an administrator at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

It is perhaps fitting that her daughter's book opens with Ilyasah receiving the news in 1997 of the terrible fire in which her mother was burned alive at the family's Yonkers home. With third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body, she lingered three weeks before dying. Malcolm Shabazz, Qubilah's son and at the time 12 years old, set the blaze while living with his grandmother.

That tragedy opened a rare window onto the emotional turmoil within parts of the Shabazz family. Betty Shabazz became Malcolm's legal guardian in 1995, after Qubilah was charged with conspiring to murder Louis Farrakhan, who was Malcolm X's chief rival in the 1960s and who, at the least, fomented the hateful climate in which Malcolm's assassination took place.

In a plea bargain, Qubilah agreed to receive psychological and alcohol-abuse treatment. Her son did not like being away from her and acted out on several occasions.

But he never intended to kill his grandmother, Ilyasah says. In fact, she points out, it was he who ran to a neighbor's house for help when the fire got out of control.

Malcolm pleaded guilty to arson and received an 18-month sentence that he served in two juvenile facilities. But since his release, he's had new bouts of trouble -- reportedly for robbery and burglary in Middletown, N.Y. Shabazz would confirm only that her nephew remains free and is awaiting trial.

"Gosh, I love him so much," Shabazz says when asked how he is doing. "He'll be okay. I'm sure."

But it is difficult for her to talk about Malcolm. A surge of emotion weakens her voice. She had hoped to take him in, to nurture him. Not only did it seem the right thing to do, but it is what she'd expect of herself.

Ilyasah Shabazz, in the yard of her New York home: People expected a daughter of the slain civil rights figure to be "a revolutionary, someone emotional," not a sheltered young woman.The Shabazz family in 1964 -- from left, Betty, Attallah, Malcolm X, Qubilah and Ilyasah, sitting on Muhammad Ali's lap. Within a year, Malcolm would be killed.