Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

The winner of the Bellwether Prize for fiction, this novel is a gripping look at identity, racism, class structure, and fitting in. Rachel is the daughter of a Danish woman and an African-American GI. After moving to the US, the family's mixed racial heritage comes into play in ways that it never did before. For Mor, Rachel's Danish mother, life in the US is incredibly tough and ultimately she makes the unfathomable decision to lead her children to the roof of their apartment building in order to jump. Rachel is the sole survivor of this terrible tragedy and after her recovery, she moves from Chicago to Portland, OR to live with her paternal grandmother, in a community that presses her to choose to be either black or white but not both.

Rachel narrates the majority of the book as she searches for her identity as a bi-racial girl and then young woman but others contribute to the narrative too: her late mother's employer, her father, the young boy who witnessed the family's flight through the sky, and even her late mother through the medium of her diary. Offering secondary characters the chance to narrate allows Rachel's story a more complete telling and a fullness that her own single point of view would not have contributed even as she reveals more than perhaps even she understands, navigating life and coming to be comfortable in her own skin, whichever color she thinks that skin is.

The writing style leaves the reader thinking that something is being held back, something just under the surface, necessary to the story. This elusiveness threads through the characterization as well, as if the characters aren't completely revealed somehow. The unconventionality of the prose is not reflected in the story itself though as the secrets haunting Rachel's family come to light. The ending is fairly abrupt and certainly doesn't offer closure but it reflects reality so although it might feel a bit unsatisfactory to a reader, it is not unacceptable. While there are some problems with the novel, on the whole it is a good tale and one that should appeal to readers and book clubs interested in social issues and coming of age novels.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. That sounds intriguing. Thanks for the great review.

  2. Thank you for making me aware of the Bellwether Prize for writing about social change/justice. Do you think that this book would be good for high school students? How old is the main character? Please answer over on my blog or I won't see the answer. Thank you.

    I'm stopping by from the Saturday Book Review Tour.


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