The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow 256 pages Published January 11, 2010 Fiction, literary
I don’t know if you remember, but The Girl Who Fell From the Sky was a book that I was peeing my pants in anticipation because I was so excited to read it. What made me so excited was that this was the Bellwether Prize for Fiction winner, and that prize is only awarded every two years. I like that the Bellwether Prize’s “intent is to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.”
In The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Rachel, only 11 years old, has to move to Portland to live with her grandmother after a family tragedy. Rachel has an African-American father and a Danish mother, she’s mixed-race, with blue eyes, and can’t fit in at school. The boys like her, but the girls don’t. Later someone tells her, “It’s like you’re black, but not really black.” (p. 230)
Rachel is trying to navigate her grief at losing her family, while also trying to do well at school. Her paternal grandmother loves her but doesn’t show it well, so it’s her aunt, a kind and sensitive woman, who she gravitates towards.
This book has tragedy in spades.
The narration goes back and forth between Rachel in first person, Brick, a young boy who witnessed the tragedy, Laronne, Rachel’s neighbor from Chicago, and Roger, Rachel’s father. Brick, Laronne, and Roger are all told in third person. I thought the other points of view brought an interesting angle to the story, as we got to see things that Rachel might not have thought to tell us. For example, I was horrified when Laronne remembered talking with Rachel’s mother, and Rachel’s mother calling her kids “jigaboos”, slang for the “n” word. Rachel’s mother didn’t know what jigaboo meant, she was just using what she thought was a cute pet name for her kids (which she picked up from her boyfriend, Doug). You could feel Rachel’s mother’s horror at her use of the derogatory term just radiating off of the page.
Brick had a particularly interesting side story, and while it wasn’t his family who died, what he went through to find Rachel was heartbreaking and heartwarming, all at the same time.
This is an important book about a biracial girl, how she comes through her grief, and how she forms her identity.
While I enjoyed The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, particularly by the end (which was a tad too tidy, but I liked it nonetheless), ultimately this book is forgettable. I think, though, that this book would be an amazing book club pick, and if discussed with other readers, would make more of an impression on those who read it. I believe I’m finding it forgettable because I haven’t had anyone to discuss it with, no one to help me cement the characters in my mind.
Rating: 85 out of 100
Book source: I received this book, unsolicited, from the publisher.