Rachel, sole survivor of a family tragedy navigates boxes others deem fitting for her. Will she choose, or will she set out to determine who she is on her own terms?
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, a debut book, by Heidi W. Durrow, paints a picture of a young girl, born to an African-American father and a Danish mother, and her journey to reclaim what she believes herself to be in a world obsessed with categories, while realizing how hard choosing not to categorize one’s self may be.
Rachel moves to Portland to live with her paternal grandmother in a mostly black community in the 1980s. She finds her light skin, blue eyes, and curly hair grants her beauty accolades at the cost of other girls and women. She’s special while learning to swallow the grievous moments interlocking with peaceful days.
Throughout the book, readers glance at those categorizing her as the lone survivor of a sadness indescribable. Her mother, Nella, along with a witness, Brick/Jamie, and a mother’s friend, Lavonne serve as the other eyes of Rachel’s life.
While race centers the story, sexuality and coming of age follow as subsequent themes to create a gumbo worthy of reading.
At first glance, I shivered from an angry undercurrent permeating and worried whether I could finish this story. Earlier on, she gives indictments about the black community she lives in and judges them based on the little knowledge she has on black people. For example, she mocks their vernacular and appearances, unless she likes them (e.g. Aunt Loretta). My eyes rolled in sweat. She “othered” herself before others boxed her with an air of supremacy I’ve witnessed from the “Tragic Mulatto” cliche. I closed the book, at first, because I decided not to continue.
However, after a breathe or two, I continued, hoping Durrow had something to say, other than propagating the “Tragic Mulatto” trope. As the chapters progressed and Rachel grew familiar with her new family and community, peeling back Rachel’s layers, you see why she behaved in the manner she presented.
Constant confusion and chaos by a woman unsure of herself and unsure of how to raise her children, raised in fear, anxiety, and an unacknowledged discussion of their place in the world. She simply did not know who she was.
Once pieces created the puzzle, our eyes (Rachel and mine) opened, a silent dialogue began.
- A good story
- Complex characterization
- Believable dialogue
- Constant opportunity for discussion beyond the page
- Brick. Even though he’s fictional, I wish the best for him – a young boy trying to find his way after witnessing that day.
- Multiple points of view, garnering everyone’s role in Rachel’s literal and metaphorical fall from the sky
- Use of a her father’s point of view once or twice (Not enough of a p.o.v. to give chapters)
- I got confused when some information that came as the chapters passed (Who is Charlie?)
- I still feel Rachel served as an avatar for Durrow’s feelings about black people. She receives a side-eye with her pseudo-therapeutic approach.
- Jesse. He showed his true colors. Yet, Durrow ends his arc without consequence – almost letting him get away with his actions when she wouldn’t do the same for the black kids.
- Her mother’s reason for her action. Protection from society? What?
- An open-ended ending that’s a tad abrupt. I guess I would have liked more of a clear destination for Rachel. But, it’s not my tale to tell.
Overall, I rated this book a 3 out of 5. The Girl Who Fell From The Sky attempts for an unflinching look at flight, but may leave you buying a train ticket to another story.
*This book happily sits on my bookshelf from my own funds*)